By Doug Kennedy
As a three-time Olympic gold medalist and U.S. college star at Dartmouth University, Cherie Piper saw her game improve thanks to the influence of several outstanding coaches during her hockey career.
Margot Page, whose lifelong love of hockey has its roots in Kincardine, has a prominent place in Piper’s place of teachers, mentors and leaders. Page was an assistant coach under Mel Davidson, who was with the Canadian Olympic women’s hockey team at the 2006 Olympics in Italy, and Piper remembered Page’s influence on that team.
“I thought Margot’s experiences as a national team player helped her relate and understand what we were going through,” said Piper, the high performance technical director at the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association. “She would push when the team needed it and she could make us laugh on the tough days. Margot has succeeded as a player and coach for this long because of her great communication skills and knowledge of the game. She just gets it, and that means a lot to athletes of all ages.”
As a young girl, Page (then Verlaan) moved to Kincardine from New Liskeard with her family in the early 1970s. Her father was a bank manager who was transferred quite often. When they moved here he told her there was a hockey team she could play for, which made the move easier for his young daughter to handle.
What a journey she has experienced in hockey since then. Speaking with Page last week, I could feel the passion she still has for coaching and mentoring young women as the head coach of the Brock University Badgers. She’s just as passionate about helping her husband Don run the family farm in Stevensville, just down the road from Fort Erie. The farm serves as a rescue centre for animals, mainly horses, ducks and cats.
Getting to know Piper over the last 25 years has been a great experience for me. Her brother Marcel, who helped coach the Bulldogs in their early years when junior C hockey returned to Kincardine, introduced me to his sister. When Barrett Ehgoetz, a native of Kincardine, played at Niagara University, Page was then the head coach of the women’s hockey program and gave me a tour of the arena. She was one of the first guest speakers at our Kincardine Minor Hockey Association banquet, and a popular guest because her accomplishments as a player with Team Canada were well known in her former hometown.
Part of her dad’s sales pitch to move to Kincardine was the fact they had a women’s hockey team 10 minutes north of town. Page played with for the Tiverton Big Reds, with teammates 20 years her senior.
When her dad was transferred from Kincardine to Kitchener, Page joined a senior C team and later joined the women’s hockey team at McMaster University. Her teaching career started in at Courtland senior public school, where she was a physical education teaching partner with Robert Ross Sr., who lives in Kincardine.
“Margot was highly skilled at motivating kids in the classroom and in the gym,” said Ross, who tries to get together with his former teaching colleague once a year. Page stills calls him Mr. Ross and he calls her kid.
“Her enthusiasm, cheerfulness and positive attitude filled our classroom,” said Ross.
After McMaster, Page joined the Burlington Wolverines of the Central Ontario Women’s Hockey League. The league champion went to the Canadian championship back then, and Page was picked up by the Hamilton Golden Hawks after the Wolverines were eliminated from the Ontario league playoffs.
Team Canada had tryouts in different regions across Canada in the 1990s. If you made it past the first regional tryout, you moved on to a provincial camp and then received an invitation to that national team camp, with players having to pay their way to each tryout. Page earned a spot on the inaugural Team Canada women’s team, being selected by the late Dave McMaster ahead of eventual Hockey Hall of Fame players Angela James and Geraldine Heaney, who were late additions.
“That was a surprise because I thought they were better players,” said Page.
She was on the first three World Championship teams in 1990, ’92 and ’94, and spent five years as a player with Team Canada. In 1998 she took the head coaching job at Niagara University and was there until 2010, taking a sabbatical to be an assistant coach on that 2006 Olympic team that won gold in Turin.
Page also did work as a colour commentator for CBC at two winter Olympics, and showed that she could have had a career in broadcasting if she wanted it.
The current COVID-19 environment has left much of the sports world in limbo, so Page isn’t sure if there will be a 2020-21 season for the Badgers. For now, she’s concentrating on skills development and mentorship for her young student athletes.
One of my favourite memories of Page was listening to Hayley Wickenheiser talk about her former coach, in her Hockey Hall of Fame speech in Toronto in 2016. Wickenheiser thanked Page for taking a 14-year-old and helping her develop as a player and person. That truly shows the respect that Page has earned in the hockey world.
Margot Page is an amazing woman, whose life in hockey and as a teacher has made her a wonderful ambassador for Kincardine and Tiverton.