Team Canada stal­wart eyes a fifth Games

Meghan Agosta, soon to be a mom, ini­tially felt trep­i­da­tion about her bold ca­reer move

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Sports - LU­CAS AYKROYD

VAN­COU­VER — With a full-time job at the Van­cou­ver Po­lice Depart­ment, Meghan Agosta could eas­ily have de­cided to re­tire from hockey this year, at age 31. In­stead Agosta, a star for­ward on the Cana­dian na­tional team, re­mains de­ter­mined to re­turn for her fifth Win­ter Olympics, in Bei­jing in 2022.

“We were room­mates at the Olympics, and I said to her: ‘How does it feel? Is this go­ing to be your last?’ ” said Laura Fortino, a de­fender from Hamil­ton who made the most re­cent Olympic all-star team at the Pyeongchang Games in Fe­bru­ary. “She looked at me dead straight in the face and said: ‘You know what? I’m not ready. This is not my last.’

“Know­ing Gus, she is so de­ter­mined. I know she will come back and play in Bei­jing.”

Agosta, who has three Olympic gold medals, took the last shootout shot in the fi­nal against the United States in South Korea. When Amer­i­can goalie Mad­die Rooney stopped the five-hole at­tempt, it ended Canada’s reign as the four-time cham­pion and gave the United States its first ti­tle since the in­au­gu­ral Olympic women’s hockey tour­na­ment in 1998.

De­spite her ul­tra­com­pet­i­tive na­ture, Agosta han­dled the de­feat with the kind of com­po­sure re­quired in her law en­force­ment ca­reer in Van­cou­ver, where she reg­u­larly faces life-or-death sit­u­a­tions.

“I’ve only been on the job for three and a half years, but I’ve seen ba­si­cally ev­ery­thing,” Agosta said. “They say as a po­lice of­fi­cer, you have a front-row seat to the best show in town. You leave some of the calls and you just shake your head: ‘Did that re­ally hap­pen?’

“I’ve been to homi­cides, sui­cides, do­mes­tic com­plaints. My mind­set and per­spec­tive on life has changed dras­ti­cally since

I’ve be­come a po­lice of­fi­cer. You re­ally have to en­joy the mo­ments you have, es­pe­cially play­ing for Team Canada.”

Agosta will com­plete a hat trick of ma­jor life chal­lenges in 2018 when she gives birth to her first child, a girl, in De­cem­ber. She is al­ready rais­ing two step­sons with Ja­son Ro­bil­lard, her fi­ancé. Ro­bil­lard is a Van­cou­ver po­lice sergeant.

“We’re very happy to say that we’re start­ing a fam­ily of our own and hav­ing a lit­tle baby girl,” Agosta said. “Hope­fully she’ll fol­low in my foot­steps some­day.”

It is re­mark­able that this na­tive of Ruthven, Ont., near Leam­ing­ton, was able to make the 2018 Olympic team, and that as­sess­ment is not a re­flec­tion of her tal­ent. A for­mer Mer­cy­hurst Univer­sity cap­tain, who grad­u­ated with a crim­i­nal jus­tice de­gree and a mi­nor in crim­i­nal­is­tics psy­chol­ogy, Agosta is the all-time NCAA leader in goals (157) and points (303). She won Cana­dian Women’s Hockey League scor­ing ti­tles with the Mon­treal Stars in 2012 and 2013.

How­ever, since Agosta moved to Bri­tish Columbia in 2014, she has not trained or played with other top fe­male play­ers, ex­cept when the na­tional team con­venes. The last lo­cal pro­fes­sional women’s team, the Van­cou­ver Griffins, folded in 2003.

Agosta has found al­ter­na­tives, such as play­ing for the Van­cou­ver Po­lice Depart­ment’s team, prac­tis­ing with a lo­cal Midget AAA team of boys ages 15 to 17, and train­ing with a skills coach at the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia.

“She’s al­ways been self-mo­ti­vated and driven, but I think her true colours came out when she de­cided to take on this full-time job,” Fortino said. “She’s kind of on her own lit­tle is­land there in Van­cou­ver. She has no choice but to find ice and prac­tise her skills and train in the gym by her­self.”

Agosta, who missed the 2015 In­ter­na­tional Ice Hockey Fed­er­a­tion world cham­pi­onship in Swe­den to pur­sue polic­ing, ini­tially felt trep­i­da­tion about her bold ca­reer move.

“I was start­ing po­lice academy in Septem­ber 2014,” Agosta said. “I thought, ‘Oh man, now I’ve got to tell Hockey Canada that I need to take the year off.’ That was my big­gest fear. But Hockey Canada sup­ported me: ‘It’s not like you’re go­ing to go tour the world. We know that this is the ca­reer choice you wanted.’ I’ve been very for­tu­nate.”

She has had to sand­wich her train­ing be­tween polic­ing shifts, four days off and then four days on. Her shifts vary, typ­i­cally run­ning 11 or 12 hours and of­ten keep­ing her up all night. That rou­tine ri­vals the jet lag she might face when trav­el­ling with the na­tional hockey team. Cur­rently, be­cause of her preg­nancy, she is work­ing a desk job four days a week with the Van­cou­ver Po­lice Depart­ment’s ma­jor crime sec­tion.

“Eat­ing, sleep­ing and train­ing at dif­fer­ent times is part of the chal­lenge for me,” Agosta said. “The quote I would use is ‘im­pro­vise, adapt and over­come.’ Just have that be­lief and the pos­i­tive mind­set that this is tough, but I still have a lot more to give.”

In her lim­ited re­cov­ery time, Agosta’s plea­sures are sim­ple. She drinks cof­fee, watches “The Bach­e­lor” and walks her dog, Rocky, with her fam­ily in their South Sur­rey neigh­bour­hood.

Some­how, it works. Fin­land’s Noora Raty, named the best goalie at the 2018 Olympics, at­tests to Agosta’s prow­ess.

“Meghan is one of the most dan­ger­ous play­ers I’ve ever played against be­cause of her high hockey IQ,” Raty said in an email. “She is a con­stant scor­ing threat be­cause of her speed, poise with the puck and quick snap shot, which is hard to read as a goalie. She is just a com­plete, all-around player who can play in all three zones.”

Agosta is also a dress­ing room leader. Re­call­ing her ex­pe­ri­ences be­fore the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, she preaches a grat­i­tude-based, go-for-it at­ti­tude to her team­mates.

“I was 18 and our old­est player, Danielle Goyette, was 40,” Agosta said. “I was in awe: ‘Holy crow! I’m in the dress­ing room with all my child­hood heroes.’ Coach Mel David­son pulled me aside two months in and said: ‘Lis­ten, you’re here for a rea­son. You need to start per­form­ing. If not, we’re go­ing to have to re­lease you.’ I thought, ‘I have noth­ing to lose.’ That’s when I changed how I was play­ing.”

Agosta, long fo­cused on the ri­valry be­tween Canada and the United States, will be un­avail­able to play for Canada at the 2019 world cham­pi­onship in Espoo, Fin­land, in April; she should be quite busy with a new baby girl by then.

Agosta in­formed her Cana­dian team­mates via the mes­sag­ing app What­sApp that she would sit out the world cham­pi­onship, but she plans to get back in shape for the team’s an­nual fit­ness test­ing in May. She con­tin­ued to hit the gym this sum­mer but stayed off the ice, apart from run­ning her hockey school in On­tario in late Au­gust.

For a vet­eran ath­lete like Agosta, who chose hockey over fig­ure skat­ing at age six, in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ments still rep­re­sent the pin­na­cle. The United States has won seven of the last eight world cham­pi­onships. Canada last pre­vailed in 2012.

“It’s not about which line you play on or which power-play unit,” Agosta said. “It’s about be­ing there and be­ing part of the team. My per­spec­tive on hockey has changed, just liv­ing in the mo­ment, tak­ing each op­por­tu­nity and go­ing with it. So many young girls would love to be in this po­si­tion.”

COUR­TESY ANCOUVER PO­LICE DEPART­MENT

Meghan Agosta has a full-time job at the Van­cou­ver Po­lice Depart­ment. It’s not easy be­ing a step-mom to two chil­dren, preg­nant and train. Agosta could eas­ily have de­cided to re­tire, but re­mains de­ter­mined to re­turn for her fifth Win­ter Olympics, in Bei­jing in 2022 with Team Canada.

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