Her hockey playing days behind her, Angela Ruggiero’s life is full of data. Data about the viewership habits of sports fans, participation in various sports, and advertising dollars spent on game broadcasts.
Ruggiero’s data provides incredible insights — as does the data from her first career.
Four Olympic teams. Four Olympic medals. Ten Women’s World Championships. Four Best Defender honors at those World Championships. Only the second American woman inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. And 256 games played in a USA jersey —more than any other hockey player, man or woman.
That data — which are just a smattering of Ruggiero’s accomplishments in the sport of hockey — is why she will be honored by the The Sports Museum’s The Tradition event Wednesday evening at the TD Garden. Ruggiero will be honored alongside Red Sox legend David Ortiz, Celtics great Kevin McHale, Revolution all-time goal scorer Taylor Twellman, former Bruins player and coach Mike Milbury, and five-time Patriots Pro Bowl tight end Ben Coates.
“Not a lot of women have received this honor,” said Ruggiero. “It is great to give more visibility to women’s sports via an event like this.”
Born and raised in Southern California, Ruggiero traveled east as a teenager to play for Connecticut’s Choate Rosemary Hall, followed by a stellar career at Harvard. A four-time All-American and the 2004 Patty Kazmaier Award winner (and still the only defenseman to earn the honor), Ruggiero was considered one of the best players in the world upon her graduation.
In 1998, she was the youngest player on the US team that won the first Olympic gold medal in women’s hockey. Besides the medal, that experience set her up for the leadership opportunities that followed.
“What stuck out to me about that experience was learning what being on a team truly means,” said Ruggiero. “We were all rookies in Nagano — none of us had been to an Olympics before.”
Having that experience at a young age changed the type of team player Ruggiero was through the rest of her career. She served as captain for multiple teams, and soon those leadership capabilities transcended the game of hockey. At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, her fourth, she was named a member of the International Olympic Committees’ Athletes Commission. Eventually, she was elevated to a spot on the IOC’s Executive Board from 2016-18, one of the highest positions an athlete can have within the governing body.
When Ruggiero talks on the ice or off, people listen, and she is using that in what she deems her second career: founder of the Sports Innovation Lab. The Boston-based company provides data analysis for teams and organizations, showing them what current fan behavior is and what fan behavior will be five and 10 years from now.
Ruggiero’s company recently released a report on something she’s obviously passionate about: women’s sports. Ruggiero and her team’s data shows that fans of women’s sports are devoted and digitally savvy — and that the men’s sports fans of the future will act similarly.
“You can’t be a lazy women’s sports fan,” said Ruggiero. “You have to search for coverage, and you have to jump over a lot of hurdles to get the coverage you are looking for. They are digitally savvy, and are already where fans of men’s sports will be in the future. To understand them is to understand where the puck is headed in sports.”
Though her hockey life is over, she still worries about where the puck is headed in the game she loves.
“I’m waiting to see what new IIHF president Luc Tardif’s plan is for women’s hockey,” said Ruggiero. ‘There is a lot more the IIHF could do for women’s hockey, and if they do, the national governing bodies will as well.”
She also is one of a few well-known former players wanting the NHL to step in and make a significant investment in the women’s pro game in North America.
“At some point, it behooves the NHL to support and be aligned with women’s hockey, for the fans and for the game,” said Ruggiero.
Wednesday night, Ruggiero’s two lives — hockey and innovation — will meet. She is bringing 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 excited for the two worlds to come together. “I’m excited to be a hockey player again for a night,” said Ruggiero.