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Franklin Regional's Wagner brings home hockey bronze

| Monday, June 5, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

Charleigh Wagner has had a stick in her hands since kindergarten, when she jostled with her brothers during dek hockey games. At age 10, she graduated to the ice. With girls hockey leagues scarce, she got used to playing with and against guys — guys whose initial skepticism morphed into respect. That included a pair of seasons with the Franklin Regional High School team.

“A lot of guys underestimated me,” Wagner said. “It was intimidating at first, and I had to prove myself every practice. After a while, they accepted me.”

While playing for Franklin Regional, Wagner also competed for the Steel City Selects, a 19-and-under, all-girls travel team that takes on squads from the East Coast and the Midwest. In 2016-17, she played exclusively for the Selects while helping them earn a bronze medal at the USA Hockey National Championships in April. The Selects finished the season ranked third in the country, having toppled teams from Virginia, South Dakota, and Connecticut at nationals before falling to San Jose in the semifinals.

A 5-foot-8 forward, Wagner scored 13 points in 62 total games played for the Selects. She netted a gargantuan, slap shot goal against the rival Armstrong Arrows (Kittanning) to help clinch a berth in the nationals.

“That was the biggest goal I've ever had in my life,” Wagner said. “My teammates were shocked that it hit the net. During the season, I became obsessed with the slap shot and became more consistent with it.”

Wagner admires the physical, fluid style of Kris Letang ­— it's why she wears number 58 for the Selects. Her coach, Jeff Tindall, draws parallels to another goalie-pestering Penguin.

“I would compare her to Patric Hornqvist,” said Tindall, who has a decade-plus of amateur coaching experience and was a professional roller hockey player in Pittsburgh. “She is a strong player and plays with an edge. She played in front of the net on the power play most of the year and established a presence in front. On defense, she developed from someone who stays home and moves the puck to leading the rush later in the season. Charleigh's versatility was crucial to our team.”

That comparison to Hornqvist extends to practice and the bench.

“One of the things that I appreciate most about Charleigh is that she's willing to hold her teammates accountable,” Tindall said. “I like a little chirping and back-and-forth on the bench. It shows that your players are engaged. We know that it takes all kinds to succeed, and ‘Chuck' made her presence felt.”

Playing full-time for the Selects helped Wagner develop her hockey instincts.

“Coach Tindall taught me a lot about the mental part of the game and helped me understand situations better,” Wagner said. “He took the time to explain plays and how to adapt based on the other team's game plan.”

Tindall sees a “night and day” difference in Wagner's game from this year's tryouts to the end of the season at nationals.

“You could see the confidence in her game growing. As she understood more of the plan, she wasn't afraid to push the play,” Tindall said. “I think the sky is the limit for her.”

Wagner will continue her hockey career this fall at McKendree University, located in Lebanon, Ill. She will suit up for the school's nascent Division II women's hockey program while studying to become a perfusionist.

“I like the small campus — it's cozy and not too big for me,” Wagner said. “They just built a new arena [the McKendree Metro Rec Plex], and the program is new [it debuted in 2016-17]. I like the idea of starting something new and making my mark.”

David Golebiewski is a freelance writer.

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