Meghan Agosta. Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)
Why did Meghan Agosta leave hockey at the top of her game to become a police officer? It was a matter of pursuing her second lifelong passion.
Meghan Agosta has charged into many a corner during her career. But none like this one.
There's no puck waiting for her. No screaming fans. No goaltender. She might have a target to shoot at, but she can't see it. She doesn't know who it is, what it is, how big it is or if it wants to shoot back at her. She's a Vancouver Police officer, on the trail of a criminal, and no amount of pressure-packed overtime games could've prepared her for this life-and-death situation. She's first on the scene. She doesn't know what's behind that proverbial door.
And yet, there's nowhere she'd rather be. She's doing what she's always wanted to do. A lucky handful of people on Earth have not one, but two true passions in life, and even fewer get to fulfill both. Meghan Agosta belongs to that select group.
We know her best as arguably the world's top female hockey player. She's a three-time Olympic gold medallist with Team Canada. She won the tournament MVP in 2010 with nine goals and 15 points in five games. She's finished her career as NCAA women's hockey's all-time leader in goals and points. She demolished the CWHL's single-season points record with 80 over 27 games in 2011-12.
It's little surprise, then, to learn Agosta dreamed of playing hockey at the highest level since she was six. At the same time, another dream beckoned. Between every highlight-reel goal and tournament and trophy growing up, she'd hear the sound of sirens echoing somewhere in her native Windsor, Ont.
"I was looking and always wanted to know where they were going," she said.
She was utterly fascinated with the idea of police work right from childhood. And by the time Agosta graduated high school, even while her playing career was starting to explode, she hadn't forgotten her second love. She ignited the scoresheet in college with Mercyhurst University by night but, by day, she was finishing a degree in criminal justice with a minor in psychology.
Flash forward to winter 2014. Agosta had just captured a third gold medal in an overtime thriller over the Americans at the Sochi Olympics. She was done school. She had won a Clarkson Cup in the CWHL. She'd just turned 27. She had little left to accomplish. So it's no wonder she felt an invisible tractor beam pull her toward the police life when an opportunity fell into her lap.
It began at the Heritage Classic March 2, 2014. Agosta was on hand to watch the Vancouver Canucks host the Ottawa Senators for an outdoor game at BC Place and met a few Vancouver police officers. They'd taken her brother, Jeric on a ride-a-long with them before, and he played on the VPD hockey team with them. Jeric, also an aspiring cop, insisted Meghan try a ride-a-long. She obliged and, needless to say, she loved it. Next thing she knew, she had an invite to play on the VPD men's team.
"He was like, 'Megs, the guys want you to come out,' and I'm like, 'Oh my god, I haven't even been on the ice since the Olympics,'" she said. "He ended up making me go, and I went, and some of those guys are the ones who started the process for me, like getting me in contact with the people I needed to be in contact with. One thing led to another, and then I was hired."
Of course, the job wasn't handed to Agosta. She had to push her mind and body to the limit to earn it. First there was an orientation, then a lot of paper work, then an interview, then a fitness exam, then a written exam, then a polygraph test, then more interviews. It was a rigorous and competitive process. All the cramming felt strange after a few years away from school.
"There are a lot of things you need to know and learn," she said. "Driving, knowing how to shoot, knowing the law and how to articulate it, how to arrest somebody, how to protect yourself, and the list goes on and on. I'm just so passionate about it. It's crazy."
When Agosta got into the 10th-month academy program, she estimates she slept about five hours the entire first week, as she was staying up night after night studying. The experience had that army-like strictness, too. Uniforms had to be perfectly pressed for Monday morning inspections, with no wrinkles or lint. Hair had to be pulled back tight. You had to look "flawless," as she put it.
But her sheer love for the whole adventure allowed her to excel. It also helped that she was used to centralization, spending a year in a travelling unit with Team Canada, which she said made her accustomed to being pushed out of her comfort zone. And, of course, the physical side of things came naturally for Agosta. She recognized she was gifted in that regard, whereas some other officers-in-training were better on the schooling side. She took the cadets who struggled athletically under her wing and helped them push through the exercise regimen.
The experienced progressed out of the classroom and into the field, which was simultaneously exhilarating and scary. Agosta used to hunt and still does on occasion, so she was comfortable firing shotguns, but handguns were a new beast. She was nervous about the kickback. She had to learn how to use pepper spray and bear spray and knives. And in the fourth, fifth and sixth months of the academy, she was out on the road with her field trainers. That's when she plunged into those dark, scary corners for the first time.
"I remember going to calls when my heart would be just pounding, and I'd think, 'Oh my God, what's behind this door?'" she said. "And I'd be thinking the worst, like, 'This guy could have a gun – what am I going to do?' I'm first. I remember the first time I had to pull my gun out, and I'm like, 'Oh, man.'"
She can't divulge the exact details of calls like these for legal reasons, but we know she made it out of those pickles OK. Thankfully, another parallel between the police life and her hockey life is the teamwork. As a cadet and now as an official constable in the VPD, she gets support from her fellow officers. As she explains it, she and her partner might be first on the scene for mere moments, but the backup arrives right behind them to make sure they're safe. She works with an experienced unit that has a strong background in surveillance.
"Let's face it, I'm a new officer that just graduated from the academy," she said. "I have a lot to learn, and they're making sure that I'm going there every day and I'm enjoying what I'm doing and learning. They're just great. I'm super, super fortunate, seriously."
Agosta gets a camaraderie similar to what she gets on the ice. Is a partner like a linemate? She says yes. She adores her partner, Jason. He's experienced, he teaches her a lot, and he's really funny, she says. And if she ever feels the need to revisit that unmistakable hockey bonding, there's always the VPD team. The quick assumption is that she skates circles around a bunch of cops and fills the net. She insists that's not the case, though. She says most of her competition is bigger, stronger and faster than her, with longer reaches. She likens the experience of playing in the men's league to when the Team Canada women centralize and battle midget AAA boys' teams.
The question is how long that caliber of competition will satiate Agosta. She's extremely grateful to Hockey Canada for letting her take a full year for the academy. Soon enough, though, another Olympic tournament will beckon, as will centralization in the year leading up. Is she done as an international athlete?
No, she says. She's still training. She participated in May fitness testing and hopes for an invite to Canada's September camp.
"Of course I definitely want to go to another Olympics, and I know that with my talents I'm able to help Hockey Canada hopefully bring home another gold medal," she said. "But that's too far away. That's when you lose sight of your goals. Right now my No. 1 is to do what I can in policing and further my career, continue training hard. When do I get the invites to Hockey Canada: go there, be prepared, be the best I can be, make a difference, prove to them that I am still good enough to be a part of the team and just take it one day at a time."
It isn't easy. She says training is hard on the body when it's mixed with four days on and four days off in shift work. She juggles a summer hockey school in Windsor, too. But she'll find a way to be ready for her country if and when it calls on her.
What we shouldn't count on, though, is a return to the CWHL or a debut in the new NWHL, which pays its players. Agosta says both leagues look great going forward, but there's no team in Vancouver, and there's no way she's leaving her new city. She's just getting started as a bona fide police officer, and it's crucial to pursue that passion because it will employ her decades longer than her playing career can.
She's happy as a constable but has her eye on a few other kinds of police work for the long term – none more than K-9. She loves animals and has a dog. She describes her first night out with a K-9 unit, tracking for two or three kilometers, as an unbelievable experience.
"What I did was cover the dog man, so he's watching his dog, but I'm watching him and making sure he's safe," she said. "But he's running with his dog, I'm running with him, we have guns out. We're tracking, trying to catch the bad guy. Hopping over fences, going under fences, hoping over little ravines."
She can't hide her passion – nor her smile – as he gushes about the tale. She can't heap enough praise on the VPD. She feels at home and knows she's made the right life decision. And if she's half as good as cop as she is a hockey player, Vancouver's baddest criminals should pack up their U-Hauls and blow town, pronto.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin