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 do."
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 candidate."
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."