GREENWICH, Conn. – Greenwich’s Sue Merz won a gold medal with the U.S. Women’s Hockey team in the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. Her sport ended up being hockey, but it could’ve been softball, skiing or any number of sports.
“I remember watching the 1980 U.S. hockey team with my father when I was 8 years old,’’ said Merz, 40, who was one of six people named to the Fairfield County Sports Hall of Fame Thursday in Stamford. “I knew I wanted to get there, I just didn’t know how. If you ask my dad, he thought I was a better softball player than I was hockey player.”
Merz considered playing softball and hockey in college. She chose the University of New Hampshire and stuck to one sport. She starred in a 13-year run with the U.S. Women’s team. A defenseman, she scored a goal and had five assists in the 1998 Winter Games to help the U.S. win its only gold in women’s hockey. She also played on the U.S. team that won silver in the 2002 Winter Olympics, and was on six U.S. teams that won six silvers in the hockey World Championships. She and her 1998 teammates were voted to the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1990.
She earned induction into the Fairfield County Sports Hall because of her achievements with the U.S. team, but she also deserves attention as a hockey pioneer. Now, it’s common for girls to play hockey in Fairfield County and a few other pockets in the United States. When Merz started, she played for a boys team in the Greenwich Blues program. “Thank God I had short hair back then,” she said. “I don’t think a lot of opponents knew I was a girl.”
And while there are female hockey players in the women’s game today who are terrific role models, Merz’s idols were National Hockey League players. “I played in a Legends of Hockey game one time with Paul Coffey,” Merz said, recalling the former star with the Edmonton Oilers and Pittsburgh Penguins. “There’s a picture of me playing against him and I’m smiling. He was one player that I really liked when I was growing up.”
Merz will be inducted into the Fairfield County Sports Hall on Oct. 15 at the Hyatt Regency Greenwich. She will enter the Hall with Bridgeport’s Wes Matthews, Stratford’s Ed Finnegan and Jim Penders Sr., Monroe’s Dave Strong and Trumbull’s Harold Jensen. Penders joins his son, Tom, to become the first father/son tandem in the hall. Tom Penders, who won 643 games as a college basketball coach, was inducted in 2008.