Milford resident, Olympic ice hockey player, inducted into area hall of fame
Milford resident and Greenwich native Sue Merz has seen a lot of success in her illustrious ice hockey career. Whether it was winning a national championship for her club team or taking home medals at Olympics, Merz has seen her fair share of success.
Last Thursday, the Fairfield County Sports Commission announced that Merz, along with five other sports figures from around the area, will be entering the Fairfield County Sports Hall of Fame.
“It’s special and really lucky to still live in the area and attend a lot of the events that aren’t just the Hall of Fame dinner,” said Merz, who graduated from Greenwich High School and currently resides in Milford. “I’m able to talk with folks in the area and work with them. I get to focus on sports for kids and it’s a great thing. The whole idea and concept of the Sports Commission is wonderful and Tom Chiapetta has done a great job building it and getting the right people involved to promote the Sports Commission. It’s been a great experience so far and being in a club with names like Kristine Lilly, Steve Young and Jen Rizzotti is impressive. I’m so excited to be a part of that.”
For Merz, the Fairfield County Sports Commission has a special place in her heart, as she’s been active with the organization for quite a while.
“It is a great honor for me,” Merz said. “I’ve been a part of the Fairfield County Sport Commission for a long time and I got to watch all these great athletes from the area be recognized. It’s a great club and I am honored to be a part of that process. Now I am a part of the Fairfield County Sports Commission as a Hall of Famer, I am honored and it’s a really cool thing.”
Merz will be honored along with five other distinguished guests during the Sports Commission’s annual Sports Night awards dinner on Monday, Oct. 15. Two Hall of Famers were selected in each of the three Hall of Fame wings: Jackie Robinson Professional, James O’Rourke Amateur and J. Walter Kennedy Community Service.
Merz, along with Bridgeport’s Wes Matthews, will be inducted into the professional wing, while Stratford’s Ed Finnegan and Trumbull’s Harold Jensen will be inducted into the amateur wing. Entering in the community service wing are Monroe’s Dave Strong and the late Jim Penders Sr. of Stratford.
“It won’t be my first time honored at things like this, but at the same time this is a wonderful community and wonderful dinner,” Merz said. “I know I’m going to be excited and it’s going to be a great night. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Playing youth hockey for the Greenwich Blues and later the Connecticut Polar Bears, Merz scored the game-winning goal to give the Polar Bears the 1990 USA Hockey Girls Midget National Championships.
After graduating from Greenwich High, Merz took her hockey talents to the University of New Hampshire, where she scored 53 goals and added 54 assists during her tenure with the Wildcats.
From there, she continued her highly-successful ice hockey campaign with the United States National Team, spending from 1990 to 2002 representing the country. During her run with Team USA, she picked up six silver medals during the IIHF World Championships, playing forward on the 1990, 1992 and 1994 teams and was a defender on the 1999, 2000 and 2001 squads.
While representing the country during the IIHF World Championships was a memorable experience, nothing prepared Merz for joining her Team USA teammates and competing in the Olympics. Merz took part in the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. Scoring one goal and five assists during the competition, Merz netted one of those assists in the gold medal game against rivals Canada that helped the United States win gold, 3-1.
Four years later, Merz was competing on her home turf, as the Olympics were held in Salt Lake City, Utah. Yet again, Team USA advanced to the gold medal game and again it was against our neighbors to the North, however this time, Canada came away with the thrilling 3-2 victory.
While receiving two Olympic medals and standing with her teammates on the podium was an unbelievable feeling for Merz, she said it’s what took place back the first day of the 1998 Nagano Olympics that really stood out.
“Walking into the stadium for opening ceremonies was like a culmination of all my time, effort and dedication I put into playing hockey,” Merz said. “Walking into the stadium with those 80,000 people there and walking in with Team USA was amazing. I was in tears the entire time. I remember feeling a sense of relief that I got here.”
After finishing her ice hockey playing day in 2002, Merz came back to Connecticut and started working in sales. Currently, Merz is with Kimberly-Clark Health Care and is in sales in their surgical and anesthesia division. While Merz enjoys what she does, she also gets to give back to the youth sport programs around the area.
“I’m in sales all over Connecticut, Merz said. “I like my job a lot, but it’s certainly more rewarding to be known in the area as an advocate for sports and to be involved with activities, whether it’s the Chelsea Cohen Foundation or Abilis in Greenwich. It’s been a great time for me to get back in the area I grew up and be able to give back. Since I’ve been away from the community for a majority of my playing career, I really enjoy now being back in the area and being exposed to the growth of sports for kids, both girls and boy, throughout Fairfield County. I get to see it on the ice, in the 10 or so years I’ve been back in town, has been a great experience. I’m looking forward to the night and to the honor.”
Being back in southern Connecticut has helped Merz become an advocate for youth sports in the area.
“The kinds of friends you can make being on an athletic team is very important, but also it’s a great outlet for kids to focus their attention, time and effort on. It’s great when kids are busy with sports than getting into unfavorable situations. It’s easy to get caught up in the wrong crowds, but when you’re playing sports, your time is taken away from that and it’s a great thing to be hooked into something healthy for you and builds so many characteristics in you. That’s what is great about sports in general.”
With all her accomplishments, Merz said that it’s nearly impossible for her to think of one sports moment that stands out the most. The Greenwich native paused for a moment and thought of her time just starting out as goalie for the Greenwich Blues when she was six-years-old. However, she also stated that it could have been during that championship game with the Connecticut Polar Bears where she scored the game-winner during the sixth overtime to win the national championship.
“It would be foolish not saying winning a gold medal in the Olympics because that’s certainly up there as the highest point,” Merz said. “I have so many fond memories being a kid and playing sports and the friends that I’ve made and the neighborhood kids I played with. We all had good times, but the fact that we were busy was a good thing. Now, I think that has fallen to the wayside a bit and that’s unfortunate, but sports in general for kids, regardless of an individual or team sport, is so great in so many aspects of a kid’s life.”
While playing hockey for Team USA was a dream come true, Merz still has other sport dreams she’s determined to accomplish. Although she doesn’t play nearly as much as she would like to, Merz traded in her hockey stick for golf clubs and is motivated to hit golf’s most difficult accomplishment.
“I haven’t got a hole-in-one yet, but once I hit that, I think that feeling will be right up there,” Merz said. “I play as much as a I can and I enjoy the sport. I play in a couple of charity events throughout the summer.”