Even in the anonymous world of women's college hockey you don't
need a game program or a mug shot to identify Meaghan Sittler.
Sit in the stands of Alfond Arena at Maine's Colby College long
enough, and her presence simply reveals itself, as it did to the
Colby student who walked in five minutes after the start of the
White Mules' game against Northeastern on Feb. 18. "Which one is
Sittler?" he said to no one in particular. As he spoke, he
turned to see a Colby player extricate herself from a tangle at
center ice, pick up a loose puck, deke two Northeastern
defensemen and flip a backhander into the goal. "Never mind,"
said the student. "I found her."
At 20, Sittler, a sophomore center, may be the best women's
college hockey player in the country. She is without question
the most productive. This winter Sittler led the nation in
regular-season scoring, with 41 goals and 40 assists in 21
games. In her final 13 games, including Colby's 7-2 loss to
Brown in the first round of the NCAA tournament, she had eight
hat tricks and either scored or assisted on 82 of 111 White
Mules goals. Sittler is a strong candidate for the U.S. Olympic
women's hockey team that will debut at the 1998 Winter Games in
Nagano, Japan. "Meaghan's a franchise player," says Harvard
coach Katey Stone. "She doesn't make many mistakes. She's always
in the right position. Like I said, a franchise player."
Tales of Sittler's exploits have filtered up to the highest
reaches of the sport. On Feb. 15, as he surveyed 40 top
youngsters at an annual Canadian prospects' game in Toronto,
Maple Leafs general manager Cliff Fletcher told his scouting
staff to put away their clipboards. "Don't even bother, guys,"
Fletcher deadpanned. "We already have our first-round draft pick
for next year: Meaghan Sittler."
Her gifts--the downy-soft hands, the vision on the ice that
allows her to see two or three steps ahead of other players, the
production so efficient and dependable that it suggests the
assembly line of a German car plant--seem as easy to explain as
her green eyes and her blonde drape of hair. Why should we be
surprised that Sittler has been so blessed? She is, after all,
the daughter of NHL Hall of Famer Darryl Sittler and the sister
of Ryan Sittler, the seventh pick overall in the 1995 NHL entry
draft. Hockey success, we assume, is her birthright.
Meaghan was born in Mississauga, Ont., on March 12, 1976.
There's felicity in that: Darryl, then with the Maple Leafs,
concluded that spring with 100 points, including an NHL-record
10 in a game against the Boston Bruins. It was his
second-most-productive season in a 15-year career with Toronto,
the Philadelphia Flyers and the Detroit Red Wings. But while
bloodlines certainly played a role in drawing Meaghan to hockey,
they did not preordain greatness. Rather, her success has been
nourished by a rigorous year-round training regimen, an abiding
love of the sport and a deep-seated fear of failure. "Her love
of hockey is something that can't be taught," says Darryl, who
is a special consultant for Toronto. "Wanting to improve and be
an elite player is something Meaghan has always wanted for
Darryl and his wife, Wendy, recall being awakened from their
weekend slumber by the incessant thud of a rubber ball striking
a wall in the 4,000-square-foot basement beneath their bedroom
in East Amherst, N.Y., near Buffalo. Meaghan and Ryan and their
friends would spend hours playing roller hockey. "We called it
the BHL," says Ryan, who is two years older than his sister.
"The Basement Hockey League." When they came up for air, they
would sit in front of the TV and play Sega Genesis hockey.
"Well, we watched movies, too," she says.
"For example?" she is asked.
"Youngblood was our favorite," she replies sheepishly, referring
to the hockey gore-flick starring Rob Lowe.
Meaghan played in boys' leagues through the eighth grade. By all
accounts she held her own, even as she suffered the taunts,
high-sticks and cross-checks of her male peers. "The big problem
a lot of the guys had with Meaghan wasn't so much that she was a
girl," says Ryan, now a Flyers left wing. "It was that she was a
girl who was better than a lot of them."
After her freshman year at the Nichols School in Buffalo,
Sittler was invited to try out for the under-18 girls' U.S.
national hockey team. By the time she entered Colby three years
later she had been named one of the top five girls in the
country. During that period she had an epiphany. "I had played
hockey most of my life just because it was fun," she says. "But
all of a sudden there were select teams to try out for, the
Olympic team to shoot for. Hockey, I realized, had become my
Although she was recruited by perennial women's hockey powers
such as New Hampshire, Providence and Boston College, Sittler
settled on Colby. This small (1,750 students) liberal arts
college, in Waterville, Maine, is less known for athletic
prowess than for high academic standards. Of the school's 29
varsity sports teams, only skiing and women's hockey play
Division I schedules, and there are no athletic scholarships.
Colby does offer a sound, competitive women's hockey program.
Even before Sittler arrived in the fall of 1994, Colby coach
Laura Halldorson had cobbled together a team that could
successfully compete with much larger schools. In 1993 she
recruited Barb Gordon, a feisty but fluid-skating winger from
Glendale, Calif., who has been no less vital than Sittler to the
White Mules' recent success. Despite missing three games this
season because of a knee injury, Gordon, who is also a strong
candidate to play in Nagano, has 34 goals and 34 assists.
"Without Barb," says Sittler, "I wouldn't have half the points I
Off the ice the two women are little more than acquaintances. On
the ice they look as if they have been playing together forever.
Before games, the duo will sit silently in the stands, just a
few feet apart, visualizing how they will synchronize their
games. "In a way they're like twins," says Halldorson.
As a freshman Sittler scored 31 goals and was named the ECAC's
Rookie of the Year. Last summer she was the leading point-getter
on the U.S. Women's Select Team that played the national team in
Finland. But there is this small catch to Sittler's success:
Since the U.S. Olympic Committee announced in 1992 that it would
field a women's hockey team in the 1998 Winter Games, making the
team has become her obsession. "She pushes herself so hard that
she'll get upset when she misses a breakaway," says Halldorson.
"She's very driven. That's why she's such a strong Olympic
And yet she is terrified of not making the team. In a paper for
a sociology class she took during the fall semester, Sittler
wrote: "To society, failing is unacceptable. I can't just give
it my all and have that be enough, unless my all will win me a
spot on that Olympic Team, of course. My successes are looked
upon and glorified, but would all vanish if I were cut from the
Olympic Team in '98."
On a Saturday afternoon in mid-February, Sittler rereads those
words in the stands high above the ice in Alfond. A shadow
passes from her face, and she allows herself a smile. "I'm just
so competitive," she says. "I can't help it."
It is through this prism of competition that Sittler has come to
better understand her father. Last Christmas, Darryl asked
Meaghan to go for a walk. For the next hour he mused about his
NHL career and apologized for the months it had kept him away
from home and family. He talked of the demands of hockey and the
sacrifices he was forced to make. "I understood what he felt
even before the walk," Meaghan says. "What I'm going through now
is what he went through as a player. Making sacrifices, being
driven, paying the price? Those are things I understand. I've
understood them for a long time."