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Angela Ruggiero: 'I didn't know I could play hockey'

by Shawn Roarke /

TORONTO -- An improbable hockey journey for Angela Ruggiero, which began inauspiciously as a 7-year-old throw-in on a youth team in California, concluded Monday night with her induction as an Honored Member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Despite all the accolades that have come her way as a collegiate player at Harvard University and as a member of the United States National Team, Ruggiero still was having trouble believing she was on the stage at the hockey hall of Fame, receiving her induction plaque from Cammi Granato, a teammate on the national team and a Honored member of the Hall of Fame herself.

"Wow, this is amazing," Ruggiero said.

Ruggiero composed herself and delivered a speech chronicling all the high points of a career that is among the most decorated in the history of women's hockey, a career that began when her brother needed another player on his youth team.

That unexpected invitation, born out of necessity, would define the next 25 years of her life.

"I didn't know I could play hockey," she said.

Monday night, the Hockey Hall of Fame confirmed she played hockey at a level rarely seen before on the women's stage.

Here are three highlights of her speech:

1. Motivational musings

Ruggiero knows her journey to hockey icon began in the most improbable of ways, but she believes her success can be traced to one of her favorite quotes, credited originally to Henry Ford, the legendary American businessman.

"Whether you think you can or you can't, you are probably right."

Ruggiero said her family believed she could play a game that was virtually the sole province of boys at the time. That belief allowed her to nurture her hockey dreams.

"My family thought I could," she said. "They always believed in me and they always encouraged me."

She grew up idolizing the Los Angeles Kings, including Wayne Gretzky, Luc Robitaille and others from that era.

"I wanted to be a member of the Los Angeles Kings; I didn't really know that wasn't a possibility," she said.

2. A Sense of Belonging

For almost 20 years, the United States National Team helped define Ruggiero.

Monday night, the reminders of the national team were everywhere, beginning with Ruggiero's choice to present her Hockey Hall of Fame plaque in Granato.

"Cammi, you guys know all about her," Ruggiero said. "She's a huge role model for me. Those were huge shoes to fill when she left the program."

Ruggiero also talked about her national team coach, Ben Smith, whom she joined for the first time as a teenage prodigy.

"He molded me into the player I became," Ruggiero said "I was 15 when I first played with the national team and I didn't have a clue."

Three years later, Ruggiero was an anchor on the blue line as the American women defeated Canada to win the gold medal in the first Olympic women's hockey tournament.

"I was 18 and I didn’t know what was going on," she said. "We were all rookies and that is where I learned to be a teammate."

3. Good Company

Ruggiero was joined by three other defensemen in the Class of 2015: Chris Pronger, Phil Housley and Nicklas Lidstrom.

The company she was keeping was not lost on Ruggiero, who brought it up early in her acceptance speech.

"What a phenomenal defensemen class," she said. "I picked up a few tricks watching you guys."

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