How Meghan Agosta’s dominance in Salmon Arm set her on path to greatness

Here's a sneak peek at what to expect from this week's historical Hometown Hockey show, featuring an all-female broadcast team, stop #22 in Salmon Arm, BC.

TORONTO — Meghan Agosta can still remember getting the phone call, the one that forever altered her place in Canadian hockey history.

It was the summer of 2005 when Mel Davidson — head coach of Canada’s national women’s hockey team — offered the opportunity Agosta had been waiting for since she was six years old.
 
“I’ll never forget that call,” Agosta says. “She said, ‘You’re one of 27 girls to be centralized and have the chance to try out for the 2006 Olympic team.’ I remember I just had tears running down my cheeks.”

The invite was another key step towards the dream Agosta had been steadily, relentlessly working towards: a chance at Olympic glory, which she of course wound up achieving with three Olympic gold medals (plus a silver for good measure). But it wasn’t the first key step she took towards that goal in 2005 — that came in the early weeks of that year on a sheet of ice in Salmon Arm, B.C.
 
The British Columbian city, which is hosting Rogers Hometown Hockey this weekend, was then host of the national women’s under-18 championship, pitting the best provincial squads from across the country against one another. Agosta represented her home province at the tourney as a 17-year-old on Team Ontario Red.

Fifteen years on, the details have grown hazy. She remembers the cold, remembers her Team Ontario Red squad staying in a cabin — perhaps in the mountains, perhaps not — remembers her youthful excitement at Team Ontario having the most stylish threads going in the tournament.

But those who were in the stands of Salmon Arm’s Spectator Arena might recall something more — Agosta dominating the competition, putting up a tournament-leading five goals and 12 points in just five games, including two goals and an assist during her side’s 5-0 shellacking of Quebec in the gold-medal game.

“She was a special player,” says Stephanie White, Agosta’s coach at that ’05 tournament. “She was highly skilled, she was a goal scorer, she had explosive speed. And really, this tournament gave that opportunity for her to showcase those skills.”

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Entering the under-18s, Agosta had already emerged as one of the top young prospects in the country. But the tournament offered her the chance to push things one step further.

“It was really an event where she could, if you will, put her mark on hockey at the under-18 level,” says White. “It kind of became Meghan’s team. I asked her to be the captain and leader of our team, and it really was her opportunity to broadly show what a special player she was.”

And she did just that. Agosta’s five goals were the third-most ever scored in the tournament in one year. Her 12 points ranked third-most as well, and her seven assists second-most. Her three points in one period during a game against the Atlantic squad tied for the most in any one period by a single player in the tourney’s history. In that same game, she and teammates Cristin Allen and Jasmine Giles combined for the three fastest goals scored by one team in any under-18 nationals tilt, putting up three tallies in just 59 seconds.

But claiming the gold for Ontario that year was about more than rewriting the record books, given what was transpiring outside the tournament at the time. While Agosta and White were in Salmon Arm, a women’s team from Windsor, near Agosta’s hometown of Ruthven, was involved in a bus accident in western New York state, with four lives lost in the crash.

“Certainly that win for us was special to celebrate that Windsor hockey team, the Wildcats, that Meghan had a close tie-in with,” White recalls. “That was a big win for us emotionally, to be able to do that for our province.”

Navigating that emotional tumult during the tournament, and rising to the occasion as its top talent, Agosta pushed her name further into the spotlight, her golden performance serving as the stepping stone to the cascade of accomplishments that followed.

“Ever since I was six years old it was always my dream to represent Canada and go to the Olympic Games. My parents gave me all the opportunities in the world — they brought me to the tryouts for the under-18s to play for my province, and I ended up making it. That was the basically the beginning of my career,” Agosta says.

“I think that was that first step that I needed to take, playing for my province, to get these other opportunities that I’ve had.”

Agosta celebrates after scoring a goal against Team USA at the 2014 Olympics. (Matt Slocum/Getty)

Later that year came the call from Davidson, catapulting Agosta to the level she’d long sought, and into a room with the best of the country’s best.

“I remember when I first went to centralization I was in awe,” Agosta says. “Literally three quarters of the girls in that room, if not all of them, were my childhood heroes. Cassie Campbell, Vicky Sunohara, Jayna Hefford, Hayley Wickenheiser. I went to camp and I was sitting back and just watching, just taking it all in as opposed to playing to my full potential.”

But simply taking in the experience meant running the risk of having it cut short.

“Mel Davidson pulled me aside a month in, and she goes, ‘We brought you here for a reason and you need to believe it, believe in yourself and in your abilities, and you need to basically start performing. And if not, we’re going to have to release you.'”

Performing meant putting up points, putting up goals. Doing what she’d done in Salmon Arm and in all the other games she’d dominated. Drawing from those experiences, she dug in to find that same fire that had propelled her forward in the past, she says. And in the final days of 2005, her sterling year got its crowning moment.

“A few days before Christmas they called an emergency meeting and said, ‘We’re going to be choosing the team.’ It went from oldest to youngest,” Agosta says. “I’ll never forget, I was the last one to go. The oldest was Danielle Goyette. She was 40, and I was the youngest, so I literally sat in the dressing room and I watched all the girls go. I thought to myself at that point, ‘Well, I’ve left everything out on the ice. No matter what the outcome is today, I’m going to leave here with no regrets, be very proud of how my year went.’

“And when I walked in the room and I sat down, Mel looked at me and she said, ‘Meg, you’re one of 21 girls going to the 2006 Olympics. Congratulations.'”

While Agosta’s career since hasn’t been short on marquee moments — not only Olympic triumphs, but also eight more medals for Canada at the world championships (two gold, six silver), a sterling NCAA career that saw her amass more than 300 points in 134 appearances, and a record-breaking CWHL career in which she claimed a championship, an MVP nod and broke the single-season scoring record — that first taste of the sport’s biggest stage in Turin holds a special weight.

“It made me realize that all the hard work and sacrifices that I did make growing up — missing birthday parties, missing my prom, missing school, putting the time and work into it, both on and off the ice — gave me that amazing opportunity,” she says. “You know, my dad is Italian, he was born and raised in Italy…. So, to be able to have my first Olympics in my dad’s home country was pretty amazing.”

And yet, what’s more amazing still — more impressive than Agosta going on a decade-long run earning an international medal nearly every year — is what she’s been doing as of late.

Returning to B.C., Agosta’s hockey career over the past six years has intertwined with her work as a constable with the Vancouver Police Department, and as a mom to her one-year-old daughter, Chance.

While the newfound balance of responsibilities has certainly complicated things, it hasn’t stopped Agosta from continuing to stockpile medals for her trophy case, or take part in groundbreaking events like the Elite Women’s 3-on-3 game at the NHL’s All-Star Weekend.

“You know, it’s not easy,” she says. “Being a police officer, eating and sleeping and training at different times — it’s tough. There’s no women’s league here, so I play with the Vancouver Police men’s team, I play with an over-30 RCMP men’s team, and I practice with the midget triple-A boys out of Langley. It’s the most challenging thing that I’ve ever had to overcome, but for me, I make no excuses.

“I have two step-boys, I have my one-year-old baby girl, and you know, it is tough some days — there’s days when I’m super tired. We’re working 12-hour shifts, dealing with different people’s problems, then I’ve got to come home and just find that energy within. But like I said, I have zero excuses. And when I do get that opportunity to represent Canada, I’m going to be prepared to be at my very best.”

Meghan Agosta and her daughter, Chance. (Courtesy: Meghan Agosta)

For all Agosta’s done over her Hall of Fame-calibre career, it’s her success of late that might have the most lasting impact, says her former coach.

“What we see with athletes like Meghan — and other athletes, whether it be in the hockey realm or in other sports — what we’re seeing is the strength of Canadian female athletes,” White says, “and that ability, that you don’t have to exclusively be one thing or another. That you can have an incredible career, and you can have a family life…. I think it’s important for all of our young athletes to see role models, but especially important for young females to see what role models are achieving now, and to be able to believe that they too can do that and even more.”

That generational impact isn’t lost on Agosta. In fact, it’s one the central forces pushing her forward — an understanding that diving in now will create a ripple that will reach those who come after her.

And one potential future all-star in particular.

“I hope one day [Chance] follows me in my footsteps,” Agosta says. “You know, for [her] to have a role model like myself, I just want to give her all the opportunities my parents gave me. It’s about leaving that legacy and giving these younger girls somebody to look up to.

“The legacy that we leave behind now, we might not get paid to play the game we love, but it’s what we do now — getting ourselves out there, going to the NHL All-Star Game, meeting the right people, showcasing ourselves as women and making it known that, ‘Hey, women are just as good as men. We’re very skilled, we’re very talented.’ When we play against other countries it’s always a battle — we want people to believe in that, believe in our sport and give us that opportunity and that chance.

“And I know deep down that that might not happen in my career. But for somebody like my daughter, and the younger generation coming up, if we could do that now to give them the chance at playing the game they love, and getting paid, and being financially stable, then, hey, we’ve done our job.”

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