ESPN Body Issue commemorates meaningful year for superstars of American women’s hockey

Although Julie Chu (2011) and Hilary Knight (2014) were the first women’s ice hockey players to grace the pages of ESPN’s Body Issue, the 2017 edition brought with it an unprecedented number of players, and an even wider scope of interest via social media. With six players taking to the ice wearing only their skates, the only element that may have outshone their beauty was their confidence.

Considering that six players grace the ice for a hockey team, there is an element of irony yet coincidence. Ironic as six players compose a hockey team, and each of the six players represented a position. Goaltender Alex Rigsby was joined by blueliners Kacey Bellamy and Monique Lamoureux-Morando, while the forwards were composed of Brianna Decker, Meghan Duggan and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson. Yet, there is coincidence based on the notion that the team’s culture is built on unity.

While Brent Burns and Joe Thornton of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks also appeared in the Body Issue, compared to their competitors from the fairer sex, they were certainly not the main draw. While that may represent an anomaly in the world of hockey, the men of the game forced to be complicit, the reality is that the appearance of these wondrous women also represented a cultural crossover.

Heading into the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championships, the innocence of the game was tarnished by the complexities of real life. With players facing severe economic strain, compounded by salary reductions in America’s only professional league for women, the members of the national team made the courageous statement that they wanted a living wage, needing sufficient stability to see the game grow.

As Duggan reveals in an interview with ESPN, she received a text from tennis legend Billie Jean King showing her support for the cause. The impact of such an incredible figure in female sport only validated the brave and justified fight for pay equity.

In spite of USA Hockey threatening to bring replacement players, the support in the media from substantial groups, such as the NFL Players Association, helped right the path, bringing the women a long overdue compensatory plan. Symbolically, the presence of six women from the national team is definitely an extension of such a strong unified front, embodying what makes this team so special.

Undoubtedly, the most confident photo among the portfolio visible online is one where all six players display their posteriors. While there is no question that such a photo reveals an empowering beauty, it is open to interpretation if there is a dual meaning. Perhaps unintentional, but the photo may be perceived as a symbolic protest of the fight endured for pay equity, a type of “Kiss my ***” message projected in a truly captivating photo.

Captured behind the lens of photographer Joe Pugliese, his portfolio certainly affirms that these wondrous women are breathtaking. While their strength equally reveals an amazing inner beauty, a raw confidence emanates from these timeless photos. Considering that the ages of the players featured are between ages 24 and 30, these photos have immortalized their physiques, preserving their peak, while presenting them as pillars of strength for their sport.

Photo credit: Joe Pugliese (No copyright infringement intended)

Calling the Minnesota Whitecaps her club team, Alex Rigsby was the youngest player among the six who were photographed, only 24 years old. She makes history as the first goaltender to grace the pages of the Body Issue. Whitecaps teammates Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux share in Rigsby’s sense of history, becoming the first twins to pose in the Body Issue.

Of note, the Body Issue holds a connection to the game beyond players appearing in its pages. Harrison Browne, who was Duggan’s teammate during the Buffalo Beauts inaugural season, found the courage to reveal a transgender status after seeing Chris Mosier appear in its pages.

Meghan Duggan, the captain of the US national team experienced a pair of unique milestones in 2017. With the IIHF Women’s Worlds contested in Plymouth, Michigan, the coordinates were a source of seemingly endless motivation, culminating with the first gold medal won by the US on home soil. Coincidentally, fellow Body Issue model Hilary Knight scored the gold medal clinching goal in overtime.

From a professional standpoint, 2017 also saw another significant milestone in Duggan’s playing career. Along with Corinne Buie, they became the first (and only) women to appear in the first two Isobel Cup finals with different teams.

Photo credit: Joe Pugliese (No copyright infringement intended)

While Duggan was also featured on Cosompolitan’s website, her courageous battle in overcoming concussion was one of the most heartwarming stories of Sochi. She would also make national news in 2014 with a polite display of levity, mimicking Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda in her second trip to the dugout at hallowed Fenway Park.

Such humor also defined part of the interview that the six players took part in with ESPN. With Duggan known for her strong commitment to a healthy diet, reference was made to the fact that a teammate had jokingly seen her eat one Cheeto in five years. The interview also revealed that Duggan had once made the friendly wager that if her team could capture both the Frozen Four and the World Championships in 2011, she would eat a burger from McDonald’s.

Rigsby joked that they videotaped Duggan not only consuming said burger, but removing it from the McDonald’s bag and unwrapping it. Of note, Rigsby and Decker were Duggan’s teammates on the Wisconsin Frozen Four champion of 2011, the same year that saw Duggan bestowed the honor of the prestigious Patty Kazmaier Award.

A teammate of Duggan’s at four different levels (NCAA, IIHF, CWHL, NWHL), Brianna Decker is also part of the sorority of players that have won the Patty Kazmaier Award. Recognized as the Most Outstanding Player of the 2017 IIHF Worlds, such a distinction was part of a much bigger reward.

Heading into the fight for pay equity, there were several rookies on Team USA who were afraid that there chance at competing for the national team would be dissolved. Decker stood guard over them, a sentinel with a reassuring presence, offering the promise of better days. Not only did those better days come, but the gold medal celebration saw Duggan admirably talk to the concerned rookies, testament to her amazing leadership.

The sixth player from this group is another of Team USA’s most admired leaders. An All-Star at both the CWHL and NWHL levels, Kacey Bellamy is one of the alternate captains for the national team. Gracious and amicable, Bellamy is truly the women’s hockey superstar reimagined. Although she may be the oldest player in this group, having turned 30 earlier this year, Bellamy brings a wisdom that symbolizes her remarkable strength, signifying an amazing perfection as an athlete and as a woman, providing an ideal yet captivating appeal.

Although the fascinating reality of the Body Issue would indicate that these photos fantasize an amazing magic which takes place outside of the game’s lines, mythologizing these amazing warriors of the rink, while cultivating a female epiphany, Bellamy experienced another magical element, one that truly signifies the feeling of collaboration for the national team.

With 10 members of the gold medal winning national team raised in New England, the Boston Red Sox showed a touch of class by inviting them to participate in a pregame ceremony at Fenway Park. Although Duggan was given the honor of taking the first pitch (something she had already done in 2014), she affably gave the ball to Bellamy. Launching the magical orb across home plate, it signified more than just a unique birthday gift for Bellamy, it was the embodiment of the amazing gift of friendship between her and Duggan.

Whether the attention that emanates from the Body Issue shall actually increase the interest in women’s ice hockey at numerous levels, especially as the professional game continues to try and find its footing, is difficult to anticipate. As anticipated, these players have been serenaded online with effusive praise for their appearance in the Body Issue, many fans falling head-over-heels over a group of women whose brave efforts for equality is destined to make them icons with the next generation, bringing about a brighter future.

As a side note, some athletes have reached new popularity following their Body Issue appearance. Among them is archer Khatuna Lorig, who appeared in the 2015 edition. The following year, she would be featured on a trading card in Upper Deck’s annual “Goodwin Champions” release. In addition, she would gain a commercial endorsement.

Undoubtedly, one could imagine that Duggan should expect some kind of increase in
popularity. Based on her brave battle with concussions, and her discipline regarding diet, she would be an ideal athlete to have a book deal, and she certainly stands as one of the most notable ambassadors for the national team.

Of note, the Body Issue pictorial holds the potential for another unique coincidence, resulting in a strong link between the women of soccer and hockey. Just weeks prior to the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Brandi Chastain appeared in a complete state of undress in Gear Magazine. With a photo that made international news, gaining equal parts acclaim and criticism, it was a cascading event that helped launch women’s soccer into popular culture.

It was a very unique coincidence that Chastain would score the Cup-clinching goal in the shootout against China, generating cultural currency. Although her goal is remembered more than her photo in Gear, seemingly faded with the passage of time, there is no question that her goal placed her in the pantheon of sporting immortals.

Undoubtedly, this year’s edition of the ESPN Body Issue has established more common ground between the stars of women’s soccer and women’s hockey. Not only have players such as Rigsby and the Lamoureux twins excelled in soccer during their high school years, they stand shoulder to shoulder with the giants of the US national soccer team.

Of note, there are two other aspects. Both US national teams have shown great courage in the fight for pay equity. Four years before the glory of the 2015 FIFA World Cup, the US experienced a heartbreaking loss in the 2011 Finals. Considering the tragic outcome of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, the women of hockey are hoping to duplicate the efforts of their soccer sisters, gaining an elusive gold medal four years later, working towards redemption in Pyeongchang.

Such ambition mirrors the heartbreak of the US soccer team. While the program boasted of dominance in the Summer Games, frequently holding a vice-like grip on the gold medal, it experienced numerous frustrations in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, which is considered the crown jewel of the sport.

After suffering an emotional loss in the 2011 FIFA World Cup final to Japan, a sentimental favorite after its nation was decimated by flooding, the road back to glory was a long one. Rewarded for their patience with the chance to emerge victorious in 2015, the victory also brought with it a paradigm shift, raising the case for pay equity in sport, foreshadowing the admirable fight of the women of hockey.

Even though these photos will likely be the subject of attention leading into Pyeongchang, imagine if a similar winning scenario took place with the women featured in the Body Issue. What if an offensive superstar such as Decker, or perhaps one of the Lamoureux sisters scored the gold-medal clinching goal? Maybe Rigsby shall be the starting goaltender in such a game, triumphant in the biggest game of her career. While these six astounding women simply hope to emulate their soccer sisters with a Winter Games gold medal after a four year heartbreak, if one of them played the key role in this dramatic finish, it would only make the Body Issue photo shoot more culturally relevant.

While such a victorious achievement would place Bellamy, Duggan, Decker and Monique Lamoureux (along with former Body Issue model Knight) into the Triple Gold Club for Women, immortalizing their legacies, it would place them in a heroic place worthy of their presence as both world-class athletes and world-class people.

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Sporting world to catch up with women’s hockey star Hilary Knight

Quite possibly the finest American-born women’s hockey player competing today, the year 2013 has brought with it a year of great milestones. The first three months saw Knight carve a great legacy within the ranks of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

Although Knight finished third in the CWHL scoring race, and second among rookie scorers, she did manage to lead all American-born players in scoring. Perhaps more impressive, Knight, a CWHL rookie no less, became the first American to win the CWHL Most Valuable Player Award.

Knight becomes first American born player to win CWHL MVP Award. Photo credit: Brandon Taylor

Knight becomes first American born player to win CWHL MVP Award. Photo credit: Brandon Taylor

She would follow up the accolade by leading all players in scoring during the Clarkson Cup playoffs. Her scoring touch helped her club team, the Boston Blades, prevent the Montreal Stars from claiming their third consecutive Cup.

Knight celebrating the Clarkson Cup win with Meaghan Duggan. This dynamic duo has also won the NCAA Frozen Four and IIHF Women’s Worlds as teammates too. (Photo by Brandon Taylor)

Knight celebrating the Clarkson Cup win with Meaghan Duggan. This dynamic duo has also won the NCAA Frozen Four and IIHF Women’s Worlds as teammates too. (Photo by Brandon Taylor)

A few weeks after her Cup win, she would duplicate the feat with the US National Team at the 2013 IIHF World Championships in Ottawa, Canada. Facing an undefeated Canadian rival in the gold medal game (who had never lost a gold medal game on home soil), Knight helped the US contingent to its fourth gold medal in the last five IIHF Women’s Worlds.

While Knight has left an incredible legacy in women’s hockey, she also has an affinity for the great summer pastime of baseball. Two great baseball moments would help define Knight’s off-season.

Despite rainy conditions, Knight proudly joined her Blades teammates as part of a pre-game ceremony at Fenway Park in Boston. Recognizing the Blades’ Clarkson Cup victory, the team was allowed onto the hallowed field for a pre-game ceremony.

Photo credit: Harry How at Getty Images

Photo credit: Harry How at Getty Images

A second baseball event would follow a few weeks after the Fenway ceremony. Back in her home state of California, Knight caught a game at Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine. Joining her were four USA Hockey teammates; team captain Julie Chu (who played against Knight in the Clarkson Cup finals), Amanda Kessel and the Lamoureux Twins, Jocelyne and Monique.

These five fantastic hockey players were in Hollywood with Harry How, a photographer for Getty Images. As part of a photo shoot to help promote the efforts of the United States Olympic Committee at the 2014 Sochi Games, Knight and her teammates proudly represented the growing game of women’s hockey.

Even in the warm sun of California, Knight cannot escape hockey. Along with a baseball game at Dodger Stadium, Knight and her teammates were welcomed to Staples Center to catch a postseason sporting event. With the NHL Conference Semi-Finals underway, they had the opportunity to catch the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks in a playoff tussle. In addition, Knight had the opportunity to be featured on the NBC Sports Network talk show, The Crossover with Michelle Beadle.

Taking in an LA Kings playoff game with USA teammates the Lamoureux twins (Jocelyne and Monique) along with Amanda Kessel

Taking in an LA Kings playoff game with USA teammates the Lamoureux twins (Jocelyne and Monique) along with Amanda Kessel

While Knight will be looking help end the United States gold-medal draught in women’s hockey at the Winter Games, she will also be part of another unique way to promote the Sochi Games. Following on the success of their trading card series which recognized athletes competing at London 2012, the Topps trading card company (known for their baseball cards) has immortalized Knight on cardboard.

Along with Lamoureux twins, the three shall be featured on their own trading cards in said set. Other Winter Games hopefuls and heroes that shall appear in the Sochi trading card set include Gracie Gold, Julia Mancuso and autographed cards of Mike Eruzione.

Quickly becoming the face of US women’s hockey (following in the steps of other legends like Cammi Granato and Angela Ruggiero), a gold medal would help to transform Knight into an American sporting hero.

Having already won a Clarkson Cup, IIHF Gold and an NCAA Frozen Four, Winter Games gold would provide her with a unique grand slam. Of note, the only other woman to have won all four was Jenny Schmidgall-Potter.

While the sporting world is catching up to the greatness that is Hilary Knight, she may become more than just a household name, but a glowing example of women proving that they too can become sporting heroes. After Sochi, there is no question that the next generation of young female hockey players may grow up wanting to be like Knight.