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    Thursday, February 5, 1998

    Goyette inspirational during tragedy

    By JIM O'LEARY -- SLAM! Sports
     NAGANO -- The catch-22 of women's hockey is how to win respect for a sport in which the strong can outshoot the weak 64-3 and beat them by score of 13-0.
     There is no easy answer nor any single solution. But, for one day at least, even a casual observer of the newest Olympic sport found himself admiring Team Canada or, in particular, one of its top scorers Danielle Goyette.
     Three days after her father died from Alzheimer's disease, Goyette scored three goals and added an assist as Canada began its gold-medal quest on Sunday with a 13-0 trouncing of Japan. The game itself was a joke -- as advertisements go, this one promoted the first-ever day of women's Olympic hockey like a flashing neon billboard with several burned-out lights -- but Goyette was an inspiration.
     "She has handled this so well," said Tracy Wilson, Goyette's close friend and teammate. "She is such a strong person."
     Goyette was at the Vancouver airport last week, waiting with the team to board a flight to Japan, when she called home. She learned that her dad, her biggest fan, had taken a bad turn. His health was deteriorating rapidly.
     She has not spoken publicly about any of this, but Goyette's first thought, says Wilson, was to return to St-Nazaire, Que, to be at her father's side. From the airport, there were discussions with family, friends and teammates. In the end, Goyette joined her teammates to take what must have been the longest, saddest flight of her life.
     "Her family wanted her to stay with the team," Wilson said.
     The senior Goyette was a huge hockey fan. One of the joys of his life was talking hockey with Danielle. Even as Goyette's health worsened, mention of Danielle's hockey would lift him briefly from the cloud of Alzheimer's. His family marvelled that, even as his memory failed, Goyette could always remember Danielle's hockey.
     "Her father was such a big hockey fan," said Wilson. "He always talked to her about her hockey. Even when he was sick, he always remembered that."
     Knowing in the deepest parts of her heart that her father's wish would been that she go to the Olympics, Goyette stayed with the team. She was in Nagano when Henri-Paul Goyette, 77, died. She was told of his death by coach Shannon Miller two days before the opening ceremonies.
     Miller says that Goyette broke down at the news. Coach and player then spent four hours together, talking. The next morning, at breakfast, Goyette took Miller aside and said: "I'm ready to go.
     "Next to my family," Goyette told Miller, "there is nothing I love more than hockey. This is where I want to be. Don't worry about me, I'm ready to perform."
     Hours later, Goyette was in uniform when the powerful Canadian team opened its Olympics against an embarrassingly weak Japanese team. Five minutes into the game, Goyette cut in from the left wing and banged in a rebound of a Hayley Wickenheiser shot for the game's first goal. Goyette scored again in the second period and once more in the third.
     "This has been hard for her," said Wilson. "Obviously she is feeling the loss of her father. But she told me she knows he is in a better place now. She has handled this so well. She is such a strong person."
     As an indicator of Canada's preparedness for the ultimate gold-medal showdown with the USA, the game didn't say much. Canada looked strong, all right, but it was like pitting an NHL club against a local high school team as Canada outshot Japan 64-3.
     Prior to the game, Miller gave her team a rah-rah speech, comparing the torch lighting at the opening ceremony to the torch that has been lit under women's hockey by its inclusion in the Olympics.
     "We talked about lighting our own flame," she said. "We talked about how we're realizing a dream. We talked about starting a fire tonight within our team and letting it take the country by storm"
     Not to take anything away from Miller, but if Team Canada needs any inspiration to turn up the heat in the Olympics, it needn't come from words. The team need only look across the dressing room to Danielle Goyette.