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Saanichton's Zandee-Hart set to make Olympic hockey debut at Beijing

The 24-year-old blue-liner was among the 10 Canadian team newcomers announced Tuesday.
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Saanichton's Micah Zandee-Hart will be back in Canadian colours at next month's Winter Olympics in Beijing. MATTHEW MURNAGHAN, HOCKEY CANADA

The moment has been burned into Micah Zandee-Hart’s memory since she sat in front of her TV set as a four-year-old Peninsula initiation-level hockey player in 2002 watching Canada win women’s hockey gold at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

Two decades later, the 24-year-old blue-liner from Saanichton will realize her lifelong dream of becoming an Olympian as she was among the 10 Canadian team newcomers announced Tuesday to make their Games debuts next month at Beijing 2022.

“It’s at moments like this when you think back to that four-year-old girl and how proud she would be that she stuck it out to reach this goal,” Zandee-Hart said from the national team ­centralization camp in Calgary.

“It was one of those ­surreal moments when I was told I had made the team. I phoned my family right away. It was a dream come true. I fell in love with the Olympics before I even fell in love with hockey and this is what I have aspired to my entire life.”

Recuperation from shoulder surgery had Zandee-Hart in and out of the Canadian lineup the past year, but she is now match fit and was ready for selection.

“Last spring when I got hurt I thought it might have been the end of my Olympic dream,” said the Islander.

“But the medical staff, ­doctors and coaches were all confident that I could come back. I am grateful for all the support. I took that and ran with it and worked so hard and put in the effort to be healthy and ready.”

Among the veterans Zandee-Hart and the other nine newcomers will follow and learn from is Canada captain Marie-Philip Poulin.

“They [10 Olympic debutantes] showed up and deserve it,” said Poulin, who won Olympic gold with Canada at Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014 and silver at Pyeongchang 2018.

“It shows how much work they put in. They wanted to be there [Beijing]. I’m so proud of them. They deserve it for all the work they have done for so many years.”

The newcomers are in for an enduring experience, added Poulin: “It’s an honour to wear the Maple Leaf. You wear it with so much pride. It’s unbelievable. It’s something bigger than yourself. My advice to the new Olympic players is to enjoy the journey and have fun.”

Since Canada and the U.S. almost always meet in the gold-medal final of women’s hockey, there is a strong chance that the five-foot-nine Zandee-Hart is in position to extend the Island’s Winter Olympics gold-medal streak to three consecutive Games following Dallas Stars captain and Central Saanich-product Jamie Benn’s gold in men’s hockey at Sochi 2014 and Comox freestyle-skier Cassie Sharpe’s gold in women’s half-pipe at Pyeongchang 2018.

Zandee-Hart, one of four siblings, said she became a blue-liner because older brother Ben Hart played defence for the Peninsula Panthers of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League. She started playing on Peninsula boys’ rep teams in Atom, Peewee and Bantam up to age 15 before going to the Okanagan Hockey Academy.

Zandee-Hart, former captain of Cornell University in NCAA Div. 1, says Canadian women’s Olympic gold-medallist soccer team captain Christine Sinclair is the athlete she most admires. Zandee-Hart made her senior national-team debut in 2018 and her world championship debut with a bronze medal in 2019 in Espoo, Finland. She was a late cut of the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic team and immediately set her sights on Beijing 2022.

Zandee-Hart carried the B.C. flag into the opening ceremony of the 2015 Canada Winter Games. Next month she will march onto the biggest sporting stage of all.

Zandee-Hart gives back to youth sports in her hometown by helping with mentorship and development with the Capital Region Female Minor Hockey Association. Canada is defending world champion and has four gold medals, never finishing below silver, in the six Olympic tournaments since women’s hockey was introduced at Nagano 1998. If form holds, Zandee-Hart soon very likely will have an Olympic medal with which to inspire those young players.

“This national team has crafted a culture that is really special and where it is expected to bring home a medal,” said Zandee-Hart. “We have the ­talent and desire to do that.”

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com