OLYMPICS

FORGET ABOUT SID THE KID

Meet Meghan Agosta. She’s the slick teenage phenom who is headed for Turin.

January 30 2006
OLYMPICS

FORGET ABOUT SID THE KID

Meet Meghan Agosta. She’s the slick teenage phenom who is headed for Turin.

January 30 2006

FORGET ABOUT SID THE KID

Meet Meghan Agosta. She’s the slick teenage phenom who is headed for Turin.

OLYMPICS

BY KEN MACQUEEN • It’s 2-2 in the second period at Father David Bauer Arena in Calgary. Canada’s national women’s hockey team has awakened from hibernation this chill December afternoon and set about erasing an unseemly two-goal deficit against the touring Swedish national team. Meghan Agosta—the 18-year-old pride of Ruthven, Ont., and just maybe the female equivalent of Sid the Kid Crosby—streaks for the Swedish goal. Team Canada’s Caroline Ouellette rips a slapshot from the point. Agosta, with a deft flick of her stick, tips the puck into the net for the go-ahead goal. Canada never looks back, winning 6-2.

It looks like a nice bit of luck, the way Agosta happened to be in the right place at the right time. Except the same thing happens a few days later at another Team Canada exhibition. Again, the score is tied. And again, Agosta is at the crease redirecting rubber for the winning goal. “She’s the type of player where the puck goes in the net when you need it,” says head coach Melody Davidson of the youngest player on either of Canada’s Olympic hockey teams. “Those players are real special.” So special that in her rookie season on the national team she’s duking it out with Hayley Wickenheiser—probably Canada’s best-ever women’s player—for the title of leading scorer.

None of this comes as much of a surprise to Nino and Charlynn Agosta, who have been watching their daughter work such magic since her switch from figure skating to a boy’s junior mites hockey team at age 6. The score in her first game was something like 20-0, Nino recalls, with Meghan having potted 13 of the goals. She was benched to avert a parental revolt brewing in the stands, then bumped up a couple of notches to a higher level team. More often than not she’s been the youngest player on every team since. “Some hockey players, the puck seems to follow them around,” says Nino. “It’s not by accident, it’s like a chess player thinking two, three moves ahead.” Or years ahead, as the case may be. Agosta was 6—playing street hockey with her older brother Jeric, himself a gifted player with a U.S. college scholarship —when she set her sights on the national team. “It’s always been my dream to represent my country,” she says that Calgary afternoon, a week before learning she’s cracked the Olympic lineup. “I have to do what it takes— whatever it takes—to be there.”

The leadership of Canada’s men’s and women’s Olympic hockey teams chose dif-

Agosta joined a boy’s team at age 6. She was so good she had to be benched to quell a parental revolt.

ferent paths as they seek to repeat the magic gold-medal performances of four years ago in Salt Lake City. The men—curiously enough considering the team executive director is one-time child prodigy Wayne Gretzky— have chosen experience above all else. As a result, several of the NHL’s hot young blades, most notably a crestfallen 18-year-old Sidney Crosby, won’t make the flight to Turin. The women kept a core of 13 players who won gold against their U.S. rivals in Salt Lake City, but they added a significant youth movement. Seven players 25 or under will make their Olympic debut. Among the exciting new forwards are Gillian Apps and Katie Weatherston, both 22, Sarah Vaillancourt, 20, and Agosta. Yet Davidson dismisses any idea the young skaters are there to gain experience for future Olympics. “I just want the 20 best players,” she says. Period.

What she and her fellow coaches selected is an explosive combo of talent, grit and potential—a team that says much about the history and future of the women’s game. Consider the ageless forward Danielle Goyette, whose love for the sport burns as fiercely at 40 as it did all those Saturday nights ago as a little girl watching her beloved Montreal Canadiens on the family TV. She was 15 before she had a team to play on. The Olympics, for women’s hockey, didn’t exist. She remembers 1992, her first world championships on the national team, as if it were part of another epoch.

“We didn’t have to train, we just played once a week for fun,” she says. “It wasn’t serious the way it is now. That’s why it’s so fun to see the improvement in the women’s game.” Another veteran, 32-year-old Cassie Campbell, says the wellspring of talent boiling up from the expanding women’s minor hockey system has put everyone on notice. “We have young players coming in and I see the national team having more and more turnover from year to year,” she says. “Players being here for 10 or 15 years, I don’t see that happening as much in the future. That’s just the natural evolution of the game.”

All things being equal, the increasing skill and legitimacy of women’s hockey might carry at least some of the financial rewards the men enjoy. Yet the base salary of Sidney Crosby in his rookie NHL year—US$850,000, quite apart from his multi-year endorsements worth millions—is more than any woman player can reasonably hope to earn during her entire career. In non-Olympic years, most women play in leagues that offer little more than expense money, or as Agosta plans to, they ride a hockey scholarship to a university education. If, at age 18, there are parallels between her life and Crosby’s, earning potential isn’t one of them, Agosta concedes with a grin. “It’s always been different and probably is always going to be different,” she says of the economics of the men’s game. “It doesn’t really bother me, Sidney Crosby an awesome hockey player.” There is, course, Turin: a mitigating factor a less gracious player might point out. She’s going; Crosby isn’t.

Agosta was 10 in 1998, the year that the dreams and ambitions of female players changed forever. That winter, Canadian women hockey heroes like Campbell, Wickenheiser and Goyette played their hearts out for silver in Nagano, Japan, at the first-ever women’s Olympic hockey finals. The Olympics represented a quantum leap in opportunity and sacrifice for a generation of girls—those now cracking the national team lineup. Agosta had a new goal, and with the stubbornness a 10-year-old, she set out making it real. Over the years, she’s missed her first communion, too many dances, even her high school promall for hockey.

And so it was she gave up part of the summer of ’98 to grind it out at a hockey camp at Niagara University in New York state. The camp was run by Margot Page, a former Canadian national team member, then the women’s hockey coach at Niagara, and now an assistant coach of Canada’s national team. “Oh my God,” says Page, recalling this feisty little girl with explosive speed, soft hands and magnetic attraction to the puck. “You just can’t teach that,” Page says. “I’d like to take all the credit for it but I can’t.”

it but I can’t.” And yet... for her efforts that summer,

Agosta received a certificate of achievement signed by her instructors. It held the laudatory and encouraging words such certificates always contain. And a little something else, for a girl whose ambitions and abilities burned brighter than most. Nino pulled out the certificate in the sweet days after his daugh-

ter learned she’d made the cut and was headed to Turin. He read the words again, written all those years ago. “Unbelievable,” he says. How could they have known? At the bottom of the certificate, drawn in pen, are a tiny Maple Leaf, five Olympic rings, and one bold prediction. “See you in 2006!” it says. M