Tale of the tape

NEIL MACKINNON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:41 AM ET

KENORA, Ont. -- Melanie Gagnon has found something she thinks works and she's sticking to it.

Gagnon is an adhesive junkie.

Tape. Black hockey-stick tape.

It's become part of who she is as a player, as a person, and there's no end in sight for the 20-year-old women's national hockey team hopeful.

Every time she sets skates on ice for a game or a practise, Gagnon must first refresh her blade.

Heel to toe.

Then waxed.

"I swear, if I get on the ice and I haven't taped my stick, I can't shoot," the St. Adolphe minor hockey product said with a chuckle. "I always make a point of doing it. I'm a very heel-to-toe girl, always heel-to-toe. It's just one of those things that has to be done and it can't be messed with."

Whatever it is about retaping her stick -- whether it needs or not -- must-be working, as Gagnon is on a hockey scholarship at the University of Minnesota. She's a four-year veteran of the Under-22 national team and has picked up three gold medals at the European Air Canada Cup in Germany.

The women's national team Fall Festival in Kenora, Ont., this week, though, marks her first invite back in four years.

She said it has taken her that long to get her game to a level where she could return.

"I've learned a lot about being confident in my abilities and just playing my game and staying true to myself," Gagnon said. "That's probably why I haven't been invited back since that first camp. I wasn't in a good spot and it's taken me four years to find that spot."

Gagnon would love to put her name among the country's 20 best female hockey players this year and play in front of her home province at the IIHF Women's World Championships in Winnipeg and Selkirk April 3-10.

But she's being more realistic about her time frame.

"It's a thrill to be here, to be part of this camp," she said. "It would be great to make it this year, but my real goal is 2010. That's the ultimate. I still have some stuff in my game that needs work I think and if I don't make it, I don't make it. But in the next three years, I'm hoping to crack this roster and I'm going to do whatever it takes to do that."

Visions of making great strides are nothing new for Gagnon though, as before she even entered high school, college scouts were already making inquiries.

"I was probably 13 or 14 and I'd have these colleges trying to recruit me," she said. "That was the point where I realized I had some skill and decided to stick with it."

And she's taking some solid advice passed down by national team veterans over the years to heart.

"The biggest thing any of the Olympians have ever told me was to have fun," she said.

"If you're not enjoying it, it's not worth it. That's especially true in these big camps when you're surrounded by 60 of them."

Gagnon said she's ready for the action and hopes to leave an indelible mark on the coaching staff and her potential teammates.


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