How Meghan Hunter followed her heart to Chicago, became Stan Bowman’s right-hand woman

“Energetic, eager to please, very detail-oriented” — that’s how Hawks general manager Stan Bowman describes Meghan Hunter.

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Meghan Hunter has been employed by the Blackhawks since June 2016.

Chicago Blackhawks

Once Meghan Hunter stepped out of the elevator at the Blackhawks’ office on the fourth floor of the East Atrium at the United Center, she was greeted by a variety of people. From managers to scouts, everyone knows and adores Hunter.

“Energetic, eager to please, very detail-oriented” — that’s how Hawks general manager Stan Bowman describes her.

There’s a saying: Behind every great man is a great woman. And in Bowman’s case, that’s Hunter, whose official title with the Hawks is executive assistant to the senior vice president/general manager and hockey operations.

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Meghan Hunter portrait

Chicago Blackhawks

Hunter does just about everything for Bowman, and no two days are alike. Some are crazier than others, especially when big trades happen. Her main duties revolve around helping Bowman. She coordinates his schedule and sits in on meetings he can’t attend.

“Meghan makes my life so much easier, so I don’t have to worry about things falling through the cracks,” Bowman said. “She does stuff that I didn’t even know she did. I’ll hear it later, like, ‘It was really nice of her to get those hats for my son.’ And I’m thinking, like, ‘I didn’t know she did that, but great.’ So she kind of just takes charge and does what needs to be done without being told to do it.”

Hunter is easily one of the best keepers of secrets in the Hawks’ front office. She’s aware of trades and waiver transactions before they happen — mainly because it’s her duty to fill out the paperwork and coordinate travel.

“It’s all hands on deck; whatever needs to be done, I’m here,” Hunter said. “The best employee is one who’s always available, and I don’t mind it. There is some flexibility in that, as well.”

She always had dreamed of being a part of the NHL, but this wasn’t the journey she envisioned.

***

Hunter was always drawn to hockey. Blame it on her Canadian roots and three uncles who played in the NHL.

When she was younger, Hunter, an Oil Spring, Ontario, native, remembers trying to stay up late to watch hockey games. She often fell asleep on the living-room floor. When she was awake, she would play mini-stick hockey during the intermissions.

“Growing up, I lived and breathed hockey,” Hunter said.

Hunter had a poster in her room that listed her three main goals in life.

First, she wanted to earn a college scholarship to play hockey. Then she wanted to compete in the Olympics. And perhaps the most far-fetched desire of them all, Hunter wanted to play in the NHL.

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Meghan Hunter was a four-time letter winner and finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, which honors the top women’s college hockey player.

University of Wisconsin Athletics

Getting the college scholarship was the easy part.

Hunter had plenty of offers, but she decided to go against the grain and play at the University of Wisconsin even though the program was only in its second year. She went on to be a four-time letter winner and was a finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, which honors the top women’s college hockey player.

Upon graduation, Hunter coached college hockey for two years but returned to Canada after she had troubles with her U.S. visa.

Hunter toyed with the idea of playing again and actually played in several Canadian Women’s Hockey League exhibition games. But, to be honest, Hunter didn’t really know what she wanted to do.

Somehow she ended up selling computer software — something she knew very little about.

“I knew that was definitely not my future,” she said. “It was a little bit of a stopgap.”

Eventually, Hunter got a job working in ticket sales with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League before she transitioned to a management role with Hockey Canada.

Hunter loved her job as a manager of the female national teams. She planned and coordinated the daily operations and management of the women’s camps and events. It even took her to the 2014 and 2018 Olympic Games, so she could check that off her bucket list.

But in June 2016, Hunter followed her heart to Chicago.

***

Hunter and her girlfriend, Jill McFate, had maintained a long-distance relationship for several years, but the two were eager to build a life together.

In February 2016, Hunter took a red-eye flight to surprise McFate, who was in serious pain because of a neurological disorder. At some point on the way to Chicago, Hunter decided she was ready to propose.

“I’m knocking, and I’m, like, ‘Ugh, this is taking forever’ because she was struggling to walk; she was literally crawling to the door,” Hunter said. “I didn’t have a ring or anything. I was just going to propose. So I had my phone ready to go. I was thinking, ‘I should probably get this on video. I should’ve gotten someone else to do it.’ So she finally gets to the door . . . and then I realized my storage ran out. One of the biggest moments of my life, and I’m, like, ‘Ugh, my storage ran out.’ ”

After that, it was settled. Hunter was moving to Chicago once she found a job.

Hunter called former Hawks assistant coach Kevin Dineen, whom she worked with at Hockey Canada, and explained the situation. Dineen said he wasn’t aware of anything, but he’d put out a few feelers.

A few weeks later, Dineen called Hunter back and told her the Hawks had an opening in their human-resources department. Bowman knew Hunter was the person for the job before she left the in-person interview. She was hired within a few days. She packed her car with all her belongings and moved to Chicago soon after that.

“It all happened so fast,” Hunter recalled.

When McFate got better,the two got married at a winery on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. It was a celebration not only of their love, but also of McFate’s good health and Hunter’s new job.

The two were finally thriving in the same city.

Then life slapped them in the face again.

This time, it was triple-negative breast cancer, a rare and aggressive form. McFate, who was 39 at the time, found it during a self-exam.

Bowman, who had two personal bouts with Hodgkin’s lymphoma a decade ago, consoled Hunter.

“I lived through a lot of those fears, and when you’re first diagnosed, that’s kind of the worst time in your life because you don’t really know how bad it is, and you don’t know what the treatment is, so you think the worst, and your mind starts racing,” Bowman said. “I was trying to give her some guidance on how to navigate through that.”

McFate went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for treatment, and the Hawks encouraged Hunter to stay by her side, which McFate is forever grateful for.

“Without their support, there was no way we would’ve been able to do it,” Hunter said. “They gave me the flexibility I needed. I spent a lot of time working from Mayo if I had my computer and my phone. That’s what they said: ‘That’s all we need as long as we can get a hold of you and know where you are.’ ’’

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Meghan Hunter & Jill McFate together at the Blackhawks’ Hockey Fights Cancer Purple Carpet event.

Chicago Blackhawks

In February, McFate was declared cancer-free.

McFate has returned to her job as an accountant, and Hunter continues to play an integral part in the Hawks’ day-to-day operations.

In a roundabout way, Hunter accomplished the three goals she set when she was younger.

“I learned as you grow up, your goals change,” Hunter said with a laugh. “I kind of hit them but in a different way.”

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