Meghan Duggan the latest ray of sunlight in the dawning of a new day for the NHL

The New Jersey Devils’ freshly minted manager of player development is gay.

Openly gay.

And married.

And the openly gay married couple have a son.

Gillian Apps, Meghan Dugann and baby George.

This appears to be the new National Hockey League, even if certain of the on-ice activity we’ve witnessed in the current Stanley Cup tournament remains rather primitive, whereby a set of hairy knuckles formed into a fist continues to be thought of, also used, as a tool with merit.

The aforementioned Devils failed to qualify as participants in the post-season runoff, a spring ritual that will drag us into summer this time around, but although looking in with their noses pressed against the window they have provided us with another clear signal that the NHL has advanced beyond the Stone Age and embraces its place in the 21st century, the sometimes barbaric activity on its frozen ponds notwithstanding.

The Devils did this with the appointment of Meghan Duggan as manager of player development on Wednesday.

Meghan Duggan and Gillian Apps.

Meghan certainly brings a glittering array of bona fides to her portfolio: Seven-time world champion, Olympic champion, captain of the U.S. women’s national team, winner of the Patty Kazmaier Award as the nation’s foremost female collegiate player, Canadian Women’s Hockey League champion, college coach, etc.

But it’s in the area of social progress that the New Jersey franchise struck the most-sonorous note.

Duggan, you see, is married to Gillian Apps, a one-time fierce foe with the Canadian national women’s hockey team, and baby made three in February 2020 when the two women welcomed their son, George Apps-Duggan, into the world.

If we know anything at all about the NHL, it’s that openly gay people are more rare than a full set of teeth.

Manon Rheaume

You can count the number of gay players on the fingers of…oh, wait…no gay NHL skater has ever come out, past or present. There have been more confirmed sightings of Sasquatch. Hell, a woman has participated in a game, and never mind that it was the carnival barker in Phil Esposito that arranged for Manon Rheaume to occupy the blue paint for Tampa Bay Lightning in a 1992 exhibition exercise.

She might have been Espo’s idea of Sideshow Bobbi, but the reality is more women have appeared in an NHL game than openly gay men.

Yet as much as the pungency of homophobia continues to linger at the upper crust of men’s hockey like the inside of bowling shoes, a fresh breeze of diversity is drifting through the front offices of numerous franchises.

Duggan joins an organization that already includes Kate Madigan as executive director of hockey management/operations, and the expansion Seattle Kraken recruited American legend Cammi Granato as a pro scout in September 2019. The Chicago Blackhawks brought Kendall Coyne Schofield on board as a player development coach last November, and the Toronto Maple Leafs bumped Dr. Hayley Wickenheiser up the food chain this week, promoting her to the position of senior director of player development. Her first order of business as boss lady was to bring former teammate Danielle Goyette into the fold. Like Granato, both Doc Wick and Goyette are ring-bearing members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Christine Simpson, Cassie Campbell-Pascall and Leah Hextall.

Meanwhile, in the blurt box, female voices are being heard at an increasing volume. ESPN plans to put Leah Hextall behind a play-by-play mic on its NHL coverage next season, and she joins a widening chorus that includes Kate Scott, AJ Mleczko, Jennifer Botterill, Christine Simpson, Cassie Campbell-Pascall and Cheryl Pounder.

But it’s perhaps the Duggan hiring that carries the greatest resonance, because her sexual orientation makes it barrier-breaking and serves as a point of progress for those of us in the LGBT(etc.) collective.

“It’s a huge part of my life and who I am, and it’s incredibly important to me to represent a variety of different communities,” Meghan told Matt Larkin of The Hockey News. “It’s certainly a responsibility, but it’s a privilege at the same time. In regards to being a woman, being a working mom, being a member of the LGBTQ+ community, representation matters. For a lot of my life, I have been doing inclusion work, trying to make hockey more inclusive and diverse and to bring a variety of different personalities and backgrounds into the fold. For the Devils to welcome me into the fold, it shows that’s important to them as well. That speaks volumes to the culture aspect of the Devils and what they value.”

Yes, a new day has dawned in the NHL, even if some on the ice continue to bare their hairy knuckles and balk at joining the rest of us in the 21st century.

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