To serve, not object

Learning to skate on a tiny outdoor rink in St-Nazaire, Que., Danielle Goyette recalls the only teacher she ever had as a child was Guy Lafleur.

With few in the world able to grasp the concept of a female playing hockey in the late '70s, the teenager relied on the televised heroics of her Montreal Canadiens to provide the type of instruction and inspiration that shaped her life.

"After the games, I went to the rink with my skates and my parents always asked, 'where are you going?' I always said, 'I'm going to practise the moves (Lafleur) made on the ice," said Goyette yesterday as Canada's 198-athlete Turin roster was unveiled.

"I'd put snowballs on the ice to skate around because I was the only one there. I just practised and practised, came home and went back and did it again the next day. It became my passion. And for those with a passion I'm proof anything is possible."

Unable to translate her love for the sport into anything more than a weekly pickup game due to the fact women's hockey barely existed, it wasn't until age 30 -- a time when most Olympic athletes have long since retired -- Goyette moved to Calgary to train and play her first organized hockey.

And yesterday, after more than a decade collecting 21 international hockey medals, one of the game's true pioneers was named Canada's flag-bearer for the opening ceremony of next month's Olympics in Turin.

"For 14 years I've worn the Maple Leaf on my sweater but this is very special," said Goyette, four days before her 40th birthday.

"To be named the flag-bearer for the best country in the world means everything to me. I was shocked when they told me. This is my last Olympics and to have this honour I was shocked and really emotional."

Capping a week of controversy over the list of prominent Olympians who'd opted out of flag-bearer nominations, Goyette's selection was redeeming.

Not only was it a good political move to select a French athlete who calls Calgary home but her status in the sport is a nod to how far women's hockey has come.

"For my first world championship (1992) I just played once a week for an hour-and-a-half on Saturday nights for the fun of it," said Goyette, recalling the first few world championships as glorified weekend tourneys before the IOC introduced women's hockey in '98.

"In 1996, I moved to Calgary to train and make sure I could speak to my teammates because I couldn't speak English at that time. It was for the 1998 Olympics I had to put all my chances on my side."

The most decorated international hockey player of all time with 17 golds and more than 100 goals, the seven-time world champion and two-time Olympic medalist is still the heart of a women's team she's helped build.

"For me, it's not about age -- when I'm on the ice I don't feel like I'm the oldest one, I feel like I'm the youngest because I'm having so much fun," beamed Goyette, Team Canada's second-oldest Olympian behind curler Russ Howard, 49. "You have to make sure as an athlete you enjoy those moments like walking into the (Olympic) stadium. Just to carry that flag ... I'm going to feel lighter than anybody else over there I'm sure."

Nixing talk of the flag curse by saying she's not superstitious, Goyette's selection drew obvious praise from teammates in attendance.

"It would be amazing to see how good she'd be had she grown up with that typical lifestyle, playing everyday and having a team to play for," said captain Cassie Campbell, whose team plays the next day.

"She's an excellent choice -- she stuck with the game just because she loves it."

And because of her, so will thousands more.