This data – which is just a glimpse of Ruggiero’s accomplishments in the sport of hockey – is why she will be honored with The Tradition at the Sports Museum on Wednesday night at the TD Garden. Ruggiero will be honored alongside Red Sox legend David Ortiz, Celtics great Kevin McHale, Revolutionary all-time scorer Taylor Twellman, former Bruins player and coach Mike Milbury and five-time tight end. of the Patriots Pro Bowl Ben Coates.
“Few women have received this honor,” said Ruggiero. “It’s great to give more visibility to women’s sport through an event like this.
Born and raised in Southern California, Ruggiero traveled east as a teenager to perform for Connecticut’s Choate Rosemary Hall, followed by a distinguished career at Harvard. Four-time American star and 2004 Patty Kazmaier Award recipient (and still the only defenseman to earn the honor), Ruggiero was considered one of the best players in the world after her graduation.
In 1998, she was the youngest player on the U.S. team to win the first Olympic gold medal in women’s hockey. Besides the medal, this experience prepared her for the leadership opportunities that followed.
“What stood out for me about this experience was learning what it really means to be part of a team,” said Ruggiero. “We were all rookies in Nagano – none of us had been to the Olympics before.”
Having this experience at a young age changed the type of team player Ruggiero was through the rest of his career. She captained several teams and her leadership skills quickly transcended hockey. At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, her fourth, she was named a member of the Athletes’ Commission of the International Olympic Committee. Eventually, she was elevated to a position on the IOC Executive Board from 2016 to 2018, one of the highest positions an athlete can hold within the governing body.
When Ruggiero speaks on or off the ice, people listen, and she uses it in what she considers her second career: Founder of the Sports Innovation Lab. The Boston-based company provides data analytics to teams and organizations, showing them how fans behave now and how they will behave five and ten years from now.
Ruggiero’s company recently published a report on something they are clearly passionate about: women’s sport. Data from Ruggiero and his team shows that female sports fans are dedicated and digitally savvy – and male sports fans of the future will act the same.
“You can’t be a lazy female sports fan,” Ruggiero said. “You have to look for coverage and there are a lot of obstacles you have to overcome to get the coverage you are looking for. They are digital savvy and are already where male sports fans will be in the future. Understanding them is understanding where the puck is going in sport. “
Although her hockey life is over, she still worries about the direction the puck is going in the game she loves.
“I’m just waiting to see what new IIHF President Luc Tardif’s plan is for women’s hockey,” said Ruggiero. “The IIHF could do a lot more for women’s hockey, and if they do, the national governing bodies will too. “
She is also one of the few well-known former players who want the NHL to step in and invest significantly in professional women’s football in North America.
“At some point it’s up to the NHL to support and align with women’s hockey, for the fans and for the game,” said Ruggiero.
On Wednesday evening, Ruggiero’s two lives – hockey and innovation – will meet. She brings 10 to 12 members of her Lab team to The Tradition, where they will meet some of her former hockey teammates and her Harvard coach, Katey Stone, who will introduce her on stage.
She is delighted that the two worlds meet. “I’m excited to be a hockey player for one night again,” said Ruggiero.