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Hockey forward Meghan Agosta accelerates Olympic dream to 2006

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CALGARY (CP) - Meghan Agosta doesn't want to wait.

The 18-year-old forward from Ruthven, Ont., is tabbed by Hockey Canada as a prospect for the women's Olympic hockey team for the 2010 Games in Vancouver. But Agosta has put her Olympic dream on fast forward. She's the youngest player among the 26 battling here every day for a spot on the 2006 Olympic team that will try to defend the gold medal in Turin, Italy.

"Considering I've been called for 2006 to try out, I'm not going to come here and just get experience," Agosta said. "I'm going to come here and I'm going to work my hardest because I want to be on the team."

A major hurdle for Agosta has been to drop her wide-eyed awe of playing alongside her childhood hockey idols. She has had to face the fact she is competing against them for one of 12 jobs at forward.

"If you're always in awe, you won't be able to play to your ability," Agosta agreed.

"If I'm out there thinking 'Oh my God, I'm on the ice with Hayley Wickenheiser and Cassie Campbell" then I won't be able to play like I know how."

The five-foot-six, 167-pound forward seems to be doing that as she has four goals and two assists in six of Canada's exhibition games against international teams.

Agosta is a natural offensive talent, a playmaker and goal-scorer, with great speed and hands.

Her talent is indisputable. Agosta scored the gold-medal-winning goal for Team Ontario at the 2003 Canada Games. She scored a hat trick in her first intrasquad game of a Canadian team camp a year ago.

But there are players in camp with far more experience in international women's hockey than Agosta. She is still developing her game in understanding what to do when she doesn't have the puck, both on offence and defence at this level of hockey.

Agosta was an alternate for the team that finished second at the 2005 women's world championship in April. She played for the national team for the first time in August at the Four Nations Cup.

Team head scout Wally Kozak says that in order for Agosta to play on the 2006 Olympic team, she has to show off her gifts.

"She has got to focus on what she does well and go on instinct and reflex," he said.

In other words, Agosta has to stick her jaw out and declare in her play that she is better than other players here.

That is not easy to do in this training camp environment where there is an underlying respect for the world and Olympic gold medals the older players have won.

"What you'd like to see from a young player is they have to come into camp confident enough to take somebody's spot," Wickenheiser said. "You see that a lot more in men's hockey than you do in the women's game."

Agosta said there were tears of joy in her eyes when she received a phone call last spring inviting her to move to Calgary in August and train with the other Olympic hopefuls.

There were a few tears of sadness, however, when she moved away from her family and her hometown about 40 kilometres south of Windsor.

"When I left the Windsor Airport I was fine, but once I got to Toronto it hit me," she said. "It was sad moving away from my family and friends, but then again, I know I'm here for a reason."

In order to ease the adjustment of moving away from home for the first time, Agosta opted not to find a place on her own or share the rent with another player.

Agosta found a billet family, Janice and Jay Pritchard, and lives in a brick bungalow a 10-minute walk from Father David Bauer Arena on the University of Calgary campus.

The majority of these players have experienced what Hockey Canada terms 'centralization" before.

Invited players spent the months prior to the 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan, and the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City training together in Calgary before the team was chosen.

For players such as Wickenheiser, Campbell and Danielle Goyette, this is their third time through the rigours of centralization, but for Agosta it's all new.

"I've never been in the environment where you work out and play hockey every day," she said. "You have to be intense every day. If you want to make this team, you have to do everything in your power to get better."

That was reinforced last week when the team released forward Ashley Riggs, another young player whose dressing room stall was beside Agosta's.

"Knowing someone has been released, you still have to be yourself and continue improving because that next person could be you," Agosta said. "I don't want the next person to be me so I'm going to continue working hard, and showing the coaching staff I can play."

It is not only her own hopes and dreams that motivate Agosta. An influential people in her hockey life was Tom Paraskevopoulos, who coached her and the Chatham Outlaws to a provincial championship when she was 14. A year later, he was diagnosed with cancer and died.

"He called me his gold mine and said he always knew that one day I'd play for Team Canada," she said. "I still think about him today."

She also counts her brother Jeric as an important influence. At age five, Agosta was nagging her father Nino to sign her up for hockey so she could do what her brother did.

In fact, Agosta saw only the last minute or so of the women's Olympic final in Salt Lake City in 2002 because she was at an arena watching her brother's game. She says with pride that Jeric will play hockey on full scholarship at the University of Omaha-Nebraska next year.

Agosta herself would have been playing hockey for a U.S. college now if not for her invitation to try out for the Olympic team.

She says several schools have shown interest in her, but her full attention is on not wasting the opportunity immediately in front of her.

"This is my chance and I just need to think about this," she said.

© The Canadian Press, 2005

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