ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Twenty years after a cereal box changed her life, Meghan Duggan is pictured on one.
When the United States won the gold medal in 1998 at the first Olympics with women’s hockey, an 11-year-old Duggan met Gretchen Ulion and got the forward to autograph her Wheaties box and still has it in her parents’ house and a copy of their photo together with sister Katelyn on her phone.
After winning gold at the Pyeongchang Games, the 30-year-old captain is featured on her own cereal box as the attention flows for the latest U.S. women’s hockey champions.
“We’re just taking in the win,” Duggan said at the NHL Stadium Series game at Navy between the Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs. “We were out in L.A. on ‘Ellen’ and coming and being a part of all these big NHL games and things like that, we’ve got some stuff coming up in New York City next week, which will be really fun.”
Appearing on the “Today” show and Ellen DeGeneres’ show and being feted at Los Angeles Kings and Tampa Bay Lightning games and then outdoors at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium is an impressive victory tour.
The next step is for Duggan, shootout hero Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and their teammates to extend the traditional 15 minutes of fame and sustain the kind of long-lasting stardom that soccer player Mia Hamm, basketball player Lisa Leslie and other previous U.S. Olympic gold medal and World Cup winners were able to generate.
A cereal box is a nice start, and Duggan and several teammates have endorsement deals with Dunkin’ Donuts with more opportunities on the horizon.
“Some of us that are out of college can capitalize on the opportunities,” Monique Lamoureux-Morando said. “Hopefully exposure for one of us is exposure for all of us and it helps grow the game. If someone gets an amazing opportunity that a lot of people are a part of and get to see, then it benefits all of us.”
Agent Brant Feldman, who represents Duggan and the Lamoureux twins, is trying to get his clients mainstream attention beyond hockey. Hilary Knight was the only player not at the outdoor game, but she had a great reason: She appeared on “Saturday Night Live” in exactly the kind of mainstream spot that could make the gold medalists true household names.
Around hockey, they’re very well-known, taking photos with Navy Midshipmen and youth players and drawing chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” from tailgating fans in the parking lot Saturday before the NHL Stadium Series game. Capitals defenseman John Carlson said he and his teammates were watching closely during the Olympics.
“It was cool to see the fans’ reaction to them,” Carlson said. “They’ve been, especially the women’s team has been doing a lot of stuff media-wise throughout the country but also in DC the past couple of days. So to see the rise they got out of a lot of fans and all that kind of stuff throughout the area was really cool.”
U.S. players earned headlines in a non-Olympic year when they threatened to boycott the world championships on home ice and came to an agreement on a better contract with USA Hockey.
The deal allows players to make up to $129,000 in Olympic years when combined with contributions from the U.S. Olympic Committee — the kind of living wage previous generations of players couldn’t earn.
“It’s a great step for our sport,” Lamoureux-Davidson said. “That’s going to help support our team. … Sponsorships, if those come, that’s great and that’s supplemental income, but what we were able to create with USA Hockey is the biggest step.”
The next step for players could include speaking engagements along with some more endorsement deals. But they hope for a bigger change: one professional women’s league in North America instead of the competing Canadian Women’s Hockey League and National Women’s Hockey League.
“They currently don’t work together,” Lamoureux-Morando said. “It’s two completely different entities. So I think moving forward, there needs to be some sort of collaboration, whether they merge or start working together. There needs to move forward in that direction.”
It appears that’s a cause that players want to use their platform to promote. They’d also like to spur further growth of women’s hockey across the U.S. like Ulion and the 1998 team did.
“That team, those girls, lit the fire in my heart to want to compete for my country and to want to play on this team,” Duggan said.
“Fast-forward 20 years to have the opportunity to really inspire the next generation or to have little girls see that photo or see that Kellogg’s cereal box or see what our team did and want to dream big, it fills my heart. It’s why I am who I am and why I’m here today is because of those girls, and we definitely want to have that impact on the next generation.”
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno