Growing up in California, Angela Ruggiero had limited opportunities to play hockey. Moving to Michigan changed that, and as a result, Ruggiero had one of the most successful careers of all time.
"I grew up loving hockey and my family loves hockey," said Ruggiero, who was announced as a member of the 2015 United States Hockey Hall of Fame class Monday. "Fortunately, I found hockey at a very young age when I was 7 when there wasn't a lot of it in the state of California. … My family moved to Michigan in 1996 for my brother's hockey. My brother and I would train in the summertime. We'd go to different rinks, wherever we could find ice and join summer leagues. Because hockey was so popular in Detroit relative to California, I think I really benefitted."
Ruggiero, 35, was a key player on the United States women's team that won the gold medal at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. The defenseman was the youngest player on that team, at 18, a senior attending prep school in Connecticut.
2015 U.S. HOCKEY HALL OF FAME
Drury, Schneider among inductees
Mike Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer
Chris Drury, Mathieu Schneider, Angela Ruggiero and Ron DeGregorio to be inducted into U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. READ MORE ›
"I was able to compete in my first [Olympic] team in 1998 and just loved the 15 years I got to spend with USA Hockey," she said. "I grew as a person, I learned so many things through hockey, and can't say enough about the opportunity I had because I wore that sweater for so long."
Ruggiero's accomplishments include four Olympic medals -- silver medals in the 2002 and 2010 Olympics and a bronze in 2006 -- and four gold medals in the World Championships. But she acknowledged that timing played a huge factor in her career.
"I feel so blessed to have grown up at the right moment. When I started playing, there were no girls in the state, no Olympics," Ruggiero said. "I didn't even know women's hockey existed at the collegiate level being from California, so I could have never imagined that I'd get to do all the things I got to do in hockey.
"But am very cognizant that if I had been born 10 years prior, I may not have had all these wonderful opportunities in life."
Ruggiero played at Harvard and won the national championship in 1999, and had 96 goals and 253 points in her college career, a school record for defensemen. Playing in the NCAA was something she didn't think about as a kid.
"When the [International Olympic Committee] finally let women's hockey into the Olympics, that was my immediate focus and goal," she said. "And the NCAA opened up its doors to collegiate hockey during my career, and now you are seeing the talk of women's professional hockey, so I think I just joined that early cusp of growth and am so grateful that I had all these opportunities."
Ruggiero was praised by Chris Drury, who had an accomplished NHL and international career and is also part of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2015.
"I always considered myself in pretty good shape," Drury said. "I thought I was pretty strong, and Angela shows up to the gym [in Vancouver at the 2010 Olympics] and I'm thinking, 'Wow, I'm glad I don't have to play against her in September.' She was by far and away one of the greatest trained athletes I have ever been around. There's no question she had such great success on the ice because of how hard she worked off the ice."
Ruggiero, who retired after playing in the 2011 World Championship, will be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in Boston on Dec. 17, and will be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto on Nov. 9.
"The last few months have been amazing. … It's been a whirlwind," she said. "You start playing hockey as a kid because you love the sport … so all this stuff is sort of icing. I didn't start playing hockey so I could be in the Hall of Fame and now the USA Hockey Hall of Fame. It's just a tremendous, tremendous honor."