Angela Ruggiero made hockey history in 2005 when she skated onto the ice wearing a Tulsa Oilers jersey during a home game of the Central Hockey League team. That January night,she became the first woman ever to play a non-goalie position during a men's professional hockey match in North America. Ruggiero is a two-time Olympic skilled defense player, and she is considered one of the most impressive new women athletes in the sport. As her college career on Harvard University's women's team came to a close in 2004, she was honored with the Patty Kazmaier Award, given to the top women's college hockey player in the United States.
Ruggiero was not the only member of her family to make hockey history at Tulsa's Maxwell Convention Center during that 2005 game: Her brother, Bill Ruggiero (1981–),is the Oilers' goalie, and together they became the first brother-sister combination ever to play on the same team in professional hockey. Bill is thirteen months younger than Angela, who was born on January 3, 1980, and was the reason his father, also named Bill, went to the Pasadena Ice Chalet one day in 1987 to sign him up for a youth hockey league. The family lived in Simi Valley, a part of Ventura County that borders the large San Fernando Valley of greater Los Angeles. Bill Sr. was originally from Connecticut, where he had played hockey during his own childhood. He was surprised to learn how expensive the game had become, even at the youth level, but was told that the Pasadena league offered a family discount—the more siblings who enrolled, the cheaper the fee per child. Bill Sr. decided to sign up his son as well as Angela and her sister Pam that day.
Angela Ruggiero didn't yet know how to skate, but she proved a quick learner. "When I first stepped out on the ice, I started to cry," she recalled in an interview with the Daily News . "Then somebody told me to hold onto the boards and push my feet forward, and by the time I left (practice) I knew how to skate." She emerged as a strong player and even a fearless one rather quickly. "She was pretty tough," a former coach, Scott Plummer, told the Daily News. "She was the only girl I coached, and she was one of our top players."
At the age of thirteen, Ruggiero began playing on an all-girls' team in suburban Los Angeles. Her skills on the ice remained above average, and she became known as "the Terminator." When she was fourteen, her parents moved to
"If the young girls saw the hitting right away, I think they would be frightened and not get involved. Right now, the women's game is developing an identity of its own."
1890: The daughter of Lord Stanley (1841–1908), the Governor General of Canada, is photographed playing hockey with her brothers on the rink at Rideau Hall, the official Ottawa residence of the Governor General. Lord Stanley is an important promoter of the sport in Canada, and later the championship cup of the National Hockey League will be named in his honor.
1892: Barrie, Ontario is the site of the first organized all-women's hockey game.
1894: A women's team formed at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, is criticized by some school authorities as inappropriate. The women play in turtleneck sweaters and ankle-length wool skirts over their skates.
1920s–1930s: Women's hockey becomes popular in Canada, and a league takes shape. A southwestern Ontario powerhouse, the Preston Rivulettes dominate the ice in the 1930s. Between 1930 and 1939, when a coming world war brought an end to the league, the Rivulettes enjoy an astonishing run, losing just two games out of 350 played.
1956: An Ontario Supreme Court decision bars a nine-year-old girl, Abby Hoffman, from a youth league. Hoffman had cut her hair short and pretended to be a boy in order to play. When she was caught and cut from the team, her parents challenged the league's "boys only" rule, but the league's policy was upheld by the provincial high court.
1967: The first Dominion Ladies Hockey Tournament is held in Brampton, Ontario.
1970s: Female hockey programs gain popularity across Canada and at U.S. colleges and universities.
1982: The first national championship for women's ice hockey is held in Canada.
1990: The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) establishes the Women's World Championship series. The Canadian team wins nearly every year.
1990–91: USA Hockey, the governing body for amateur ice hockey in the United States, counts 2,700 female players in the sport.
1992: Olympic officials announce that women's hockey will become a medal sport at the 1998 Winter Games scheduled to be held in Nagano, Japan.
1993–94: USA Hockey counts 6,300 female players.
1997–98: USA Hockey reports 23,010 female players were counted for the season.
1998: Women's hockey becomes an Olympic medal sport at the Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, with the U.S. women winning a stunning victory over the Canadian national team.
1999: Canada's National Women's Hockey League (NWHL) is founded.
2003: Hayley Wickenheiser (1978–), a former Canadian national women's team player and three-time Olympian, joins the Kirkkonummi Salamat, a men's professional team in Finland. She becomes the first woman to score a point in a male professional hockey league.
2005: Number of U.S. female hockey players reaches 52,469.
Michigan,but she wanted to play high school hockey at a school with a strong women's program and chose a prestigious private school, Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Connecticut. She spent the next four years there, seeing her parents only on school holidays or when they came to visit her in Connecticut. Though the school did not offer athletic scholarships, it did provide financial aid for students to help with the tuition costs that reached $35,360 in the 2004–05 academic year. Its alumni include U.S. president John F. Kennedy (1917–1963; served 1961–63), and Ruggiero attended the school around the same time as Ivanka Trump (1981–), daughter of Manhattan real-estate mogul Donald Trump (1946–) and Amanda Hearst, an heiress of the Hearst newspaper fortune.
By the time she reached Choate, Ruggiero was so skilled a player that she easily won a place on the girls' varsity team,and she was its only freshman member. The team went on to win a league championship with her help, and she also perfected her game by playing on a club team, Connecticut Polar Bears Pee-Wees, one of the top girls' teams in the country in the thirteen-to-fifteen (Pee Wee) division. The Polar Bears won the U.S. National Women's Championship in 1995, and that same year Ruggiero earned a spot on the U.S. national junior team. At the age of fifteen, she became the youngest player on the 1996 U.S. women's national hockey team. "It's a great feeling to make a team like that even though I'm still so young," Ruggiero told Vincent Bonsignore of the Daily News. "I earned my spot on the team and I earned their respect."
During her years at Choate, Ruggiero earned excellent grades and served as class president for three of her four years there. On the ice, she set several school records, including the most goals (40), assists (23),and points (63). Olympic-level hockey was the next step, and she won a spot on the U.S. women's Olympic ice hockey team for the 1998 Winter Games at Nagano, Japan. Her teammates included several young women she had known from the previous national team,including Cammi Granato (1971–), another leading American player. The Nagano Games marked the first time that women's ice hockey became a full-medal Olympic sport, which was a significant milestone for the game and its growing numbers of female players. The U.S. team beat Canada for the gold medal that year, a stunning victory against a Canadian women's powerhouse team that they had lost to in every major tournament before that.
As one of the top American players of her gender, Ruggiero was courted by the women's hockey programs of several prominent universities, and she chose Harvard over Brown, Dartmouth, and the University of Minnesota. She majored in anthropology at Harvard, but took a year-long break to train for the 2002 Olympics, which were held in Salt Lake City, Utah. She was selected as one of the eight athletes who would carry the American flag during the opening ceremonies. This flag, however, was special: it was a tattered one that had been found in the rubble of the World Trade Center after September 11,2001 (the devastating attacks on the New York City skyscraper towers as well as the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.,that were carried out by members of al-Qaeda). The flag-bearers were chosen because of some personal connection to the tragedy. In Ruggiero's case, her friend and U.S. national teammate Kathleen Kauth (1979–) had lost her father in the World Trade Center attack. Three months after the disaster, Kauth was cut from the U.S. women's Olympic team when it had to be reduced to twenty members. Ruggiero was honored to take Kauth's place as a flag-bearer in the opening ceremonies, which she described to Matt McHale as "a powerful moment, so emotional. One of the policemen nearby told me to be strong. Then the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang the national anthem like I've never heard it."
Ruggiero and her Olympic teammates won the silver medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, losing the gold to the strong Canadian women's team. They had been favored to win the gold again, however, because the U.S. team, on a year-long international tour, had compiled a 32–0 record and beat the Canadians a total of eight times over the last few months. Now in her early twenties and no longer the youngest player on the
Ruggiero returned to her studies at Harvard in 2002. The 2003–04 season was her final one and her team made it to post-season play, the National Collegiate Athletic Association women's hockey semifinals and finals that are known as the "Frozen Four." Harvard lost the championship to the University of Minnesota, 6–2, but once again Ruggiero ended her school career as a record-holder at Harvard. She racked up honors for the most goals scored by a defensive player in a single game (5),most goals by a defensive player in a season (29),most goals by a defensive player in a career (79), and another record for most points by a defensive player in a career (214). That last one is thought to be a collegiate best for players of either gender.
Ruggiero also finished her collegiate career as the winner of the 2004 Patty Kazmaier Award, given to the best women's collegiate hockey player in the country. The award is named in honor of a top 1980s Princeton University player who died in 1990. After graduation, Ruggiero spent some time with her family in suburban Detroit, but she joined the Tulsa Oilers for one game in January 2005 thanks to her brother, Bill. He had turned professional in 2002 and was the goalie for the Oilers, a team in the Central Hockey League. This is a "minors" professional league, in comparison to the major-league National Hockey League (NHL). The team found itself short a player on the defensive line, and Bill jokingly suggested to his teammates that his sister should fill in. Team executives liked the idea, and Ruggiero was signed to a one-game contract. She skated onto the ice on January 28, 2005, in a match against the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees. She had one assist, the statistical record for one or two players who pass the puck to a teammate, who scores a goal with it in next shot.
Ruggiero entered the record books for women's hockey as the first woman to play in a professional game outside of the goalie crease. In 1992,Manon Rhéaume (1972–) played one pre-season game as goalie for the Tampa Bay Lightning; four years later Erin Whitten took an eighteen-second ceremonial skate with a team in the minor United Hockey League (UHL), the Flint Generals of Michigan. But Ruggiero was the first to play a regular-season game as a full team member, though it was just a one-time event. She and Bill were also the first brother-sister combination in professional hockey, and they even appeared in a segment on NBC's highly rated morning news broadcast, The Today Show. Ruggiero told correspondent Kevin Tibbles that she would be skating for all women players that day. "They're here to see if I can keep up with the boys," she joked, but she also called it the "chance of a lifetime. I'm just going to go out there the last shift and get a point. And then be able to go down and tap my brother on the pads and give him a hug, you know. I'll remember that for the rest of my life."
Later that year,in April 2005,Ruggiero scored the winning goal that determined the champion of the Women's World Ice Hockey Championships in an overtime shootout, when each team sends five players to take their turn trying to score against the opposing team's goalie. Once again, Ruggiero's U.S. team had reached the finals with their Canadian archrivals, and this time won their first-ever victory in the Women's World Ice Hockey Championships since this International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) women's tournament began in 1990. Ruggiero had also spent the year wearing her number 4 jersey with the East Coast Wizards,an elite Boston-area women's team that often played against top Junior men's teams.
Though a women's professional hockey league was a hoped-for goal for Ruggiero and her former Olympic and national teammates, she was thrilled that hockey had brought her so many riches already. She had received a terrific education and traveled around the world to play the game she loved. "I've had all this opportunity," she reflected in a Sports Illustrated for Women interview. "Our family didn't have much money, but my dad's and mom's paychecks went to hockey. I was brought up to appreciate things. Most of my friends at Harvard have tons of money and travel all the time. My sister's never been out of the country, unless you count Canada."
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