Gritty and tough

PAUL FRIESEN

, Last Updated: 7:35 AM ET

DAUPHIN -- Hayley Wickenheiser has never been in a barroom fight.

But if she were, she knows which teammate she'd want beside her: Team Canada's Colleen Sostorics.

"Because she's from Saskatchewan, No. 1," Wickenheiser explained, proving small-town Saskatchewanites stick together. "And she's tough all around. She wouldn't back down from much. She loves to crash and bang. The harder it gets, the more she likes it."

A 5-foot-4, 172-pound defenceman, Sostorics -- "Stubs," to her friends -- is one of those players whose scouting report invariably begins with the word, "tough."

TOUGHNESS

The nickname, she picked up when she left rural Saskatchewan (stubble country) for the University of Calgary.

The toughness, who knows? Maybe from growing up on a farm outside Kennedy, population 200. Or from playing boys hockey as a kid.

But if you need a puck dug out of the corner in the final minute of a tie game, or you need to separate the rubber from someone in a different coloured jersey, Stubs is your woman.

"We saw it last night," Team Canada boss Melody Davidson said yesterday, referring to Thursday's 6-0 win over the Parkland Rangers, a midget AAA boys team. "She came down hard on the wall, collided with that guy -- and he came out with a broken stick, she came out with the puck."

It was a big-time collision you don't see very often in no-hit hockey.

You get the impression Sostorics would fit right in, though, even if they allowed bodychecks. She was, after all, captain of her boys bantam team in Kennedy 10 years ago, which led to a few "scuffles," as Sostorics called them.

"There were always a few comments about being a girl," Sostorics said. "But to the guys on my team I was just a hockey player."

One who simply isn't afraid of anything, according to her coach.

"She'll do whatever it takes to succeed," Davidson said. "Those are the types of people you want on that back end: willing to eat pucks, or make a pass."

It's not like she's a slug with the puck, either.

In three previous world championships, Sostorics had three goals and a pair of assists.

But when Team Canada sets out next week to recapture the world title it lost to the U.S. in 2005, she'll likely stand out for something other than finesse.

COMPETITIVE

"I'm just a competitive person by nature," Sostorics said. "I just always want to win."

She's done plenty of that, starting with two Olympic gold medals. After the '02 triumph at Salt Lake City, the town of Kennedy named a street after her, the one that runs past the rink and down to the school.

"I lived there for 17 years. It's where my heart is," she said. "It's really nice to come home to a special honour like that."

It probably should come as no surprise that four years ago Sostorics helped the Alberta provincial team win a national championship in rugby, her other favourite sport.

"It's an aggressive game, and I like that," she said. "It doesn't hurt as much as it looks like it does."

Wonder if her opponents would agree.

"I tried to recruit some of my teammates," Sostorics added, grinning. "And they weren't that interested in playing."

It's not like Sostorics has a reputation as a dirty player. Just a hardworking one, honest and gritty as a Saskatchewan drought.

"Which is what she's like off the ice," Wickenheiser said. "She'd rather do it the right way than cheat."

"She's a real person," is Davidson's take. "Worked hard to get where she's at. She doesn't take it for granted."

Women's hockey's version of a Sutter, it sounds like.

"She's got a little chip on her shoulder, so that helps," Wickenheiser said.

Oh?

"Maybe she's feeding you a little bit there," Sostorics said.

Yeah, maybe.


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