Hockey January 8, 2018


Ask any of the 23 players on Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team what
it means to represent her country, and you’ll likely get some variation of
a single answer: it’s a dream come true.

For one of those players, forward Maggie Connors, a day getting a glimpse
of that dream seven years ago roused her into turning that into her
reality.

When Canada’s National Women’s Team travelled to St. John’s, N.L., to
compete in the 2010 4 Nations Cup, it offered one local minor hockey player
the chance to ‘Experience a Dream’: spend a day with the team, on and off
the ice.

Connors’ mom, Susan, entered her 10-year-old daughter into a draw. Maggie
was picked to hang out with the team before its game, skate during warm-up
and go back to the dressing room after the game.

“I was very shy and nervous, especially because I was so young, but I think
the reason was because I was so in shock,” says Connors. “I always just saw
them on TV. It’s like meeting your idol.”

The first player Connors met was Natalie Spooner, her mentor for the day.
The two talked for a while before Spooner introduced Connors around the
dressing room. Spooner, herself barely 20, left an indelible impression on
the youngster.

“She’s probably my favourite player because of that [day],” says Connors.
“Because of that personal connection of spending a few hours with her and
communicating with her after watching her.”

Connors visited the coaches’ room and met some of the team staff. She then
dressed and hit the ice with the team. For a player who wears No. 22 for
her club teams, the experience was surreal.

“I remember standing next to Hayley Wickenheiser in the corner and being in
shock, obviously, because one of the best players in the world is standing
next to me, and I’m 10 years old standing looking at her, and I’m skating
with her in an actual Team Canada jersey,” says Connors. “It was a special
moment.” Connors later sat next to the captain in the dressing room during
the coaches’ pre-game speeches.

She saw firsthand the commitment and dedication needed to be an elite-level
athlete. But it wasn’t the players’ talent and speed that left the biggest
impression. What she took away had less to do with their play, but rather
the way they conducted themselves.

“It was the professionalism,” she says. “It was how welcoming and nice they
were. That’s one thing I learned – being a hockey player on Team Canada is
not just about having the skill and the talent and being a good hockey
player; it’s also about being a good person.”

Her mindset shifted. Suddenly things didn’t seem so far away.

“Coming from Newfoundland and being so young, I thought of Hockey Canada as
the same as the NHL – it’s so far away that for them to come to me…,”
says Connors. Being a part of the players’ world, if only for a day,
connected to what they were doing. “That pushed me to want to be on the
team more. I wanted to do what they do. I want to be on that team and stand
on the blue-line listening to our national anthem.”

Seven years after the luck of the draw landed her a day with Canada’s
National Women’s Team, Connors earned a place on Canada’s National Women’s
Under-18 Team.

Even before her 4 Nations Cup experience, Connors had been thinking about
playing at a higher level. She had already travelled to Toronto to play
with summer teams. When she was 12, she enrolled at Shattuck-St. Mary’s
prep school in Faribault, Minn.

Since then, she’s played in three high-performance national championships –
the 2015 Canada Winter Games with Team Newfoundland & Labrador, and the
2016 and 2017 National Women’s Under-18 Championships with Team Atlantic –
and with the national U18 team in a three-game series this summer versus
the United States.

She has won three national championships (2014-16) with the Shattuck-St.
Mary’s U16 team, and captained the team the previous two seasons, averaging
more than a point per game both years. This year is her first with the U19
team.

Success, Connors has learned, comes when people from different places come
together, support one another and work toward a common goal. While her club
teammates live, eat, practice and play together every day, the same
principle applies in a short-term tournament like the 2018 IIHF U18 Women’s
World Championship, where Connors and her Team Canada teammates came
together only 10 days before the event.

“It doesn’t always come down to hockey,” she says, “it comes down to how
much chemistry your team has.”

Still only 17, Connors hopes to accomplish even more, starting with
bringing home Canada’s first U18 women’s worlds gold since 2014. Next year,
she’ll head to Princeton University and aim to add to her list of national
championships. And after that – four, maybe eight, years down the line –
standing on the blue-line, a member of Canada’s National Women’s Team,
listening to her national anthem at the Olympic Winter Games, experiencing
another dream.

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