Saanichton's Zandee-Hart back in Canadian colours, taking aim at 2022 Olympics

As peculiar as it sounds, considering the Tokyo Summer Games have yet to be held, the Beijing Winter Olympics are just over a year away. The road to Beijing 2022 begins this week for Micah Zandee-Hart of Saanichton in the women’s Canadian national hockey team hockey camp taking place in a bubble in Calgary.

There could be a world championship this year, if the pandemic situation allows April 7-17 in Nova Scotia, but every knows what is the big prize.

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“The time has flown since 2018 and we’re now a year out and working toward our goal of getting back on top of the Olympic stage. Beijing 2022 is the vision we all have,” said Zandee-Hart, from Calgary.

The loss to the U.S. in the 2018 gold-medal Olympic final at Pyeongchang is still a festering wound in the Canadian camp. Zandee-Hart made her senior national-team debut in 2018 and her world championship debut with a bronze medal in the 2019 tournament in Espoo, Finland. She was a late cut from the 2018 Olympic team but is considered a big part of the program looking forward to Beijing 2022 and Milan-Cortina 2026.

“I have to trust in my own strength, learn how to play my game and be comfortable in my game, and trust what I bring to the team,” said Zandee-Hart, who turned 24 last week.

The national team is getting re-acquainted. Each player was required to quarantine at home for seven days and test negative before departing for Calgary.

“We have not been together as a group for 11 months and are shaking off the rust,” said Zandee-Hart.

“We are getting through it together. The pandemic has been tough on everybody. You just go day by day. We hope there’s a world championship this year and think there will be. Either way, it’s a huge year for us heading into the Beijing 2022 Games.”

The pandemic also cost Zandee-Hart dearly in her NCAA career, which was suddenly cut short in her senior season last March, with the Islander in the midst captaining top-ranked Cornell.

“Not having the NCAA tournament or graduation was difficult. But I got more time at home than I have had in a few years and that was nice,” said Zandee-Hart, a mobile five-foot-nine blue-liner, who was named to the Ivy League and Eastern College Athletic Conference first all-star teams.

She spent part of that time last year helping with coaching, mentorship and development in the Capital Region Female Minor Hockey Association, whose teams are nicknamed the Reign. An all-girls hockey association wasn’t an option for Zandee-Hart when she started playing on Peninsula Minor Hockey Association boys’ rep teams in U-11, U-13 and U-15 up to age 15 before going to the Okanagan Hockey Academy.

“The players on our national team realized our dreams and have a responsibility to the players coming up in the next generation to help them realize their dreams,” said Zandee-Hart.

“I had role models. Now I want to be that role model, especially on my home Island and in my hometown Victoria.”

She already has become that. Because of her commitments at Cornell, Zandee-Hart was unable to play in Canada’s 3-2 overtime pre-pandemic Rivalry Series victory against the U.S. last February in Victoria, but jerseys with her name on the back dotted the sold-out crowd at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.

“With teammates such as this, I learn something new each time I step onto the ice with them,” said Zandee-Hart, of the 14-day Canadian camp taking place in Calgary.

Her own role models were diverse. Canadian women’s national soccer team captain Christine Sinclair is the athlete she most admires while she became a blue-liner because older brother Ben Hart played defence for the Peninsula Panthers of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League.

Zandee-Hart was the B.C. flagbearer in the opening ceremony of the 2015 Canada Winter Games and that year was also named captain of the Canadian U-18 team, which won silver at the world championship. There will certainly be more opening ceremonies and medals to come, including on the grandest stage, for the puck-moving rearguard from Saanichton.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com.

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