This year the CWHL and Les Canadiennes (who started as the Montreal Stars) are celebrating their 10th season. In honour of that, we will be doing periodic stories reflecting on the history of the team and those who have played a part over that time.
It’s easy to look at Meghan Agosta and think that the fact that she has a full-time job as a constable with the Vancouver Police Department means that her passion for playing hockey has diminished.
That couldn’t be further from the truth. All it takes is one talk with her to understand that she is as motivated as ever when she takes to the ice.
“I know deep down inside, I want to be there and I want to continue to play for Canada, and I know that I can help them be successful at the world stage, so I’m going to do everything I can do on my end,” she explained in our conversation a few days ago. “Even though I am working shift work and I’m not getting on the ice or in the gym as much as I would like to, I know deep down, when I get the opportunity I’m going to be ready.”
“I absolutely love my job,” she says of the VPD. “I don’t look at it as a job. I look at it as a hobby. I’m going to work right now, I’m talking to you, and I’m proud. I’m proud to have accomplished what I have accomplished in my life, but even more so to be able to work full-time.”
Agosta talked to me on the way to her night shift. She would start work at 6:45 in the evening and work until 5:45 the next morning.
“People are like ‘Agosta, why would you have a full-time job and do this? Like, why?’ And I’m like, ‘why not?’ If I were to get hurt today, get cut from Hockey Canada, or have to retire, my life is set.”
The road through Montreal
Agosta was arguably the best women’s hockey player on the planet from 2010 to 2013. In that span, she was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2010 Olympic tournament (with nine goals and six assists, she was also the top scorer) and in 2011 she became the all-time leading scorer in NCAA history.
In 2011-12 and 2012-13, she played her two CWHL seasons, winning the CWHL scoring title each year. She did it in Montreal with the Stars.
Agosta was never expecting to play hockey in Montreal.
Born in Windsor, ON, and growing up in nearby Ruthven, she was planning on going back to Ontario and playing in the CWHL for one of the Toronto-based teams once she graduated from Mercyhurst University. She was coming off of a great NCAA career with the Lakers.
But a relationship brought her to Montreal. She was the first-overall pick in the 2011 CWHL Draft by the Stars, and she had an immediate impact with the team.
“With hockey, that next step after university was playing women’s pro hockey, and that was in the CWHL, and at the time I was dating someone that lived in Montreal so it brought me to a new city,” she said. “That was absolutely a great experience for me, and to be able to play for the Montreal Stars was another part of the journey.”
In her first CWHL season, Agosta had the greatest season the league had ever seen. In 27 games, she had 41 goals and 39 assists. Her 80 points are still a league record. The Stars that year also won the Clarkson Cup, their third in team history.
“It’s a lot different than university hockey. You’re not on the ice as much, you don’t have the schooling part of it but you have other things like part-time jobs and different speaking engagements and stuff like that. When you play on a team you always want to win. Nobody likes to lose. Going into the Clarkson Cup we knew the talent that we had and we knew we had the team to do it, it was just a matter of coming to play in those specific games.
“For us, or for me personally, to be part of a winning team and win the Clarkson Cup is definitely another check mark in the books saying I’ve played in that league and I’ve won the Clarkson Cup, and everybody wants it.
“It was a great experience for me and I had a lot of fun the two years that I was there, and there’s a lot of memories and a lot of friendships that I made,” she said. “To be a part of the Montreal Stars [...] it was another stepping stone for me to grow and develop as a player and playing in Montreal. They are a great organization.”
Agosta won the Angela James Bowl as the leading scorer in the CWHL the next season, though the Stars would lose the Clarkson Cup final. She remains the only person to win the scoring title twice, and she did it in successive seasons; her only two in the CWHL.
Balancing two passions
The next season (2013-14) the Canadian National Team members were centralized for the Sochi Olympics and were not in the CWHL. Following the Olympics, using her degree in Criminal Justice Law Enforcement, with a minor in Criminalistics Psychology, Agosta was hired by the Vancouver Police Department and needed to go to Police Academy. It was a dream come true for Agosta, but like her road to the National Team, it took everything she had.
“It wasn’t easy. It took 10 months to go to the police academy and graduate to be a full-time police constable[...]. Going to Police Academy and learning the law and how to shoot your gun, how to protect yourself, how to handcuff, how to speak to people, how to talk on the radio, all of those different things ... it was very, very challenging, and I was totally out of my element, but it was a challenge and something that I’ll never forget.”
She hopes to represent Canada at a fourth Olympics in 2018 in South Korea, but her path to get there would be unlike any of her teammates.
“Once I got hired by the Vancouver police, my biggest fear was telling [Hockey Canada general manager] Mel[ody] Davidson I had to take the year off because I got hired,” Agosta said.
“I was very happy with the response that I got from her and the rest of Hockey Canada and they were super supportive and they were like, ‘Meghan we know this is something you’ve wanted to do since high school, and we’re going to support you 100% and let us know what you need. Take the year off, do what you have to do and we’ll be excited to bring you back into the program the following year.’”
Now back in the Team Canada program, she says her job has changed how she looks at hockey.
“Ever since I started my career here in policing in Vancouver, my thought process and my view on things has changed drastically. It’s not about scoring titles. It’s not about who wears a letter on their shirt, it’s not about who’s on the power play, which line you’re on, who’s on the penalty kill, special teams, that kind of thing. You’re a part of a team and you’re one of 21 girls or one of 23 girls to be able to represent that team. And there are thousands of girls who want to be there and they can’t. For me, going to these different [police] calls ... I’m driving to work right now and my teammates are probably eating and getting ready to go to bed. It’s crazy how fortunate and how lucky you feel when you come home every day.
“I go to these different calls at work where I see people down and out, they have nothing, they are either sick or they lost a family member or mental health [is a concern]. Whatever it is, I leave these different calls and I think ‘wow, I’m lucky.’ I’m lucky to be Canadian number one, I’m lucky to have my health. I’m lucky to have family support and I’m lucky to be able to play hockey.
“When I think of Canada, I think nothing but hockey and playing hockey and winning gold and being number one and all of that stuff, but at the same time, it’s not a right. It’s a privilege to play. It’s a privilege to play for Team Canada and for me looking back, it’s awesome that I had 80 points in 27 games, but at the end of the day, none of that matters.
“It’s the memories, it’s the fun that you had with your teammates, it’s the relationships. It’s those types of things that now, since I have my job, I don’t take for granted.”
Agosta is now in Finland for the 4 Nations Cup. The team had an exhibition game on Sunday, and she scored the team’s first goal. It was her first official hockey game since last April when Canada fell to the United States in the gold-medal game of the Women’s World Championship.
Her job as a constable obviously forces her to keep active, but to be able to stay at the top of her game as a hockey player, she credits two things. She plays with the Vancouver Police Centurions on occasion, but she credits her time with the Midget AAA Valley West Hawks as what keeps her able to compete with the best in the world.
“I can’t thank the [Hawks] enough. They are the ones who have prepared me to continue to be at the level that I need to be at to continue to fight for a spot and be successful when I get the call and go to play for Team Canada,” she said.
“I’m literally on the ice one to three times a week. I get to the gym as much as I can, but my teammates are on the ice six times a week, training three times a week. They have skills coaches, have skating coaches, are a part of a full team and that’s just reality, but it’s the decision I made and again I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Despite Agosta’s stature in the game, she is aware, like so many others, that the women’s game is still in the beginning stages of growth. In Canada, the CWHL still does not pay its players, but have said they will do so starting next season.
Even though she no longer plays in the CWHL, she still wants to see the league grow.
“Every year when Team Canada invites all of these top-level athletes to come to September camp and the 4 Nations Cup, the skill level just keeps getting better and better and it’s always going to get better,” she said.
Agosta has been asked to speak on behalf of the Canadian Sport Institute’s Game Plan program, which allows athletes to think of their post-athletic careers while they are still in them.
“As far as finances, hopefully one day they can pay the girls to play in that league to make money and play the game that they love. Right now, it’s to play for the love of the game and not for the amount of money that they make. For us — especially someone like myself — if we could do everything right to leave a legacy for the up-and-coming girls to one day ... when they get to that level, they can play and get paid at the same time. That’s what we’re focusing on as veteran players right now.”
If she makes the 2018 Olympic roster, she will have the chance to be just the fifth player to win four straight Olympic Gold Medals in women’s hockey history, joining teammates Jayna Hefford, Charline Labonté, Caroline Ouellette, and Hayley Wickenheiser.
And she admits her role within the program has changed. The player who was the youngest member of Canada’s roster at the 2006 Olympics, turning 19 during the tournament, will become the veteran.
“The biggest thing is, if I have that opportunity to play in the Olympics and represent Canada in South Korea, I want to be at my best. I want to be better than I ever was playing for Canada. I want to be the best I can be there and be a great leader.”