Fortino be­gin­ning new medal hunt

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - SCOTT RADLEY

When great ath­letes start to get a few too many rings around the trunk and the game be­gins to pass them by, they step aside for the next gen­er­a­tion of play­ers and pre­pare for the in­evitable hon­ours. Maybe their num­ber is re­tired. Pos­si­bly their name is hung on a wall. Per­haps they be­come an am­bas­sador for their old team.

Point is, how­ever they’re rec­og­nized it is gen­er­ally a nod to the past.

So, when Laura Fortino was told her Team Canada sweater was about to be hung on the wall of her old high school next week, she started won­der­ing if a mes­sage was sub­tly be­ing sent about her age.

“I know, right?” the gold-medal-win­ning de­fence­man chuck­les. “It’s mak­ing me feel old.”

She’s not. She’s just 26 to­day — and prob­a­bly not even at her ath­letic peak. It’s rea­son­able to ex­pect she’ll play in an­other two or three Olympics be­fore she’s done. Likely win a few more medals and au­thor more mem­o­rable mo­ments.

Yet on Wed­nes­day dur­ing Laura Fortino Ap­pre­ci­a­tion Day, Bishop Ton­nos Sec­ondary will un­veil a dis­play with her sweater, a signed puck, a hockey card and some stuff from the Olympics. A beau­ti­ful hon­our for some­one who’s al­ready done a lot in the game.

Don’t mis­un­der­stand, she is truly ap­pre­cia­tive. Blown away, in fact. Just very, very pleas­antly sur­prised. Be­cause she sure wasn’t ex­pect­ing this. Truth is, the An­caster na­tive hasn’t been think­ing of much other than train­ing and hockey th­ese days. The PyeongChang Games are nine months away yet she’s al­ready fully im­mersed in prepa­ra­tion.

Each day she’s at Mac work­ing out. Late next week she leaves for boot camp in New Brunswick. A month of in­tense train­ing that she says pushes play­ers like they’ve never been pushed. In Au­gust she moves to Cal­gary with the team to be­gin the real work to­ward the Games.

It’s a grind. The one thing work­ing for her? She’s no longer try­ing to make the team. She’s a main­stay, now. In­stead she’s pre­par­ing for suc­cess. There’s a big dif­fer­ence. “I feel like my role has changed in a way.” Prior to Sochi, she was a new­comer look­ing for ice time. To­day she’s a vet­eran of the team and one of the back­bones of the blue-line. Rather than seek­ing out the es­tab­lished play­ers for ad­vice, she’s now the one be­ing sought out by, as she de­scribes them, the “young girls.”

Which is kind of hi­lar­i­ous con­sid­er­ing she’s not ex­actly an ar­ti­fact her­self.

“OK,” she laughs. “The new girls.”

Ei­ther way, this new po­si­tion she’s in is huge. For the past three years she’s taken her gold medal ev­ery­where and shared it with hun­dreds and thou­sands of peo­ple. They’ve held it and worn it and taken pho­tos with it and even cried with it. She’s been blown away by the re­sponse. It was with her at an event as re­cently as last week­end.

“Be­ing able to call your­self an Olympic gold medal­list is such an hon­our. It’s very, very rare.”

See­ing how pro­found an im­pact it has had and re­mem­ber­ing how deeply she felt the joy of win­ning it, she des­per­ately wants an­other one. If she can as­sist on the win­ning goal in over­time again and help make Canada burst into an ex­plo­sion of joy in the process, all the bet­ter. But how­ever it hap­pens, she wants to dou­ble her col­lec­tion.

Which raises a key ques­tion. Will the dis­play at BT have a door on it so it can be opened? Be­cause if things go ac­cord­ing to plan, there will be other big mo­ments to cel­e­brate in her still-young ca­reer. And more to show off. She doesn’t know. But she hopes it’ll need one.

“I feel,” Fortino says, “I have so much more to ac­com­plish.”

sradley@thes­pec.com 905-526-2440 | @radley­atthes­pec Spec­ta­tor colum­nist Scott Radley hosts The Scott Radley Show week­nights from 7-9 at 900CHML

CAR­LOS OSORIO, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Laura Fortino, right, is a vet­eran de­fence­man with the Cana­dian women’s Olympic gold medal-win­ning team. Wed­nes­day is her day at Bishop Ton­nos.

HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR FILE PHOTO

Laura Fortino takes her gold medal ev­ery­where and has let thou­sands of peo­ple touch it, feel it and wear it. Now she’s play­ing for an­other one.

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