Canadian forward Meghan Agosta celebrates after scoring a goal against the United States in the preliminary round. Photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Veterans and rookies share the Olympic thrills
Fourth time or first time, an Olympic final is always special. With the big game in the women's tournament coming up, Canada blends experience and youth.
Meghan Agosta shared her thoughts about potentially joining an elite band of four-time Olympic champions when Canada goes up against the USA in Thursday's gold medal game, while rookie Emily Clark spoke about her feelings on the eve of her first Olympic showdown.
One thing is clear: the Olympic experience never gets old. With a shiny trio of gold medals back home, Agosta could be forgiven for a sense of ‘been there, done that’ going into her latest showdown. Instead, she speaks of the upcoming challenge with the enthusiasm of a rookie about to step into a thrilling unknown.
“It’s crazy that this is my fourth Olympics,” she said. “I kinda get the chills. Every time it’s new memories, a new team, a new journey. We have something special here, a great group of 23 girls who have become a close family.
Victory would place Agosta in exalted company, joining Hayley Wickenheiser, Jayna Hefford and Caroline Ouellette as a four-time Olympic champion. Playing alongside those great names on three previous gold medal missions has left a big impression.
“At all the different Games I’ve played in, it was those leaders, those veteran players that stepped up and were ready to play and ready to calm the storm,” Agosta said. “That’s something that I’m going to bring to this final. Play calm, play free and have fun. That’s when I play at my best.
“We have a lot of veterans on team with a lot of that experience of playing these big games. There’s so much depth on this team, whether it’s someone’s first Olympics or fourth, we have so much talent and skill. I don’t think it – I know we’re ready.”
After learning from some of the best in the business, Agosta is now a senior player herself handing the knowledge and experience to the next generation. And the advice is pretty simple – take it easy.
“I tell them it’s just another hockey game,” she said. “We’ve played these girls in Four Nations and World Championships. Yeah, it’s the Olympic. Yeah, there might be more people in the stands. But we can use that to our advantage. Let’s just go out there and play, have fun, play free.”
For Clark, meanwhile, it’s her first time in an Olympic final – and the experience of the likes of Agosta and team captain Marie-Philip Poulin go a long way towards banishing any first-night nerves for the 22-year-old from the University of Wisconsin.
“It's just the way they don’t change their personalities or their behavior, that really helps us to be our normal selves,” Clark said. “As a team, we’ve been doing this all year, preparing for this game all year. Now it’s the fun part, so we just have to be ourselves.”
And what of captain Poulin, the key player in Canada’s last two Olympic triumphs with those huge clutch goals? “She’s got quite the resume, but when we look at her it’s not she’s done in those gold medal games but what she does every day that’s the difference-maker,” Clark added. “She brings it to every game no matter what the situation because she plays with her heart. I’ll expect nothing less out of her in the final.”
But for every first-timer, there’s always an extra ripple of excitement as a childhood dream turns into reality. Asked how many times she’d played out an Olympic final in her head, Clark smiled. “I don’t think I can put a number on that! It’s definitely something you dream of, a moment you work for. I’m going to be soaking it all in.”
The gold medal game isn’t just about the great North American rivalry though. As a showcase event, it’s a chance for women’s hockey to show its worth on the biggest stage possible. Two decades after the sport debuted in Nagano, the progress is clear – and Agosta reckons it’s accelerating with each passing Olympic cycle.
“Women’s hockey came a long way,” she said. “Just looking four years back to the last Olympics, the speed and skill has increased tremendously. It’s pretty amazing to see and there’s a lot of great women’s hockey players coming up. That’s what we want, more people to play the best and be the best.
“As the years go on people realise how amazing the talent and skill in women’s hockey is. I don’t know, I think it’s an amazing sport and there’s going to be millions and millions of Canadian fans cheering for us.”