Growing up, Micah Zandee-Hart was called Granny by her siblings. That may have worked if she was the oldest in her family.
However, Zandee-Hart credits being the youngest in helping her get to the point where she is now – competing for a spot with Canada’s National Women’s Team for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
“Growing up in a big family and being the youngest, it forced me to grow up a little faster before I got to this level of hockey and leadership,” said Zandee-Hart. “My family has been huge for me. My mom was my primary caregiver growing up. I am the youngest of four and she was always driving me around to all my things while also doing the same for my three older siblings (brothers Benn and Nate, and sister Magda). My dad supported me in whatever decisions I was going to make along the way.”
Some of those decisions included moving away from home as a teenager to play hockey at a high level and, most recently, taking a year off from Cornell University to centralize in advance of the PyeongChang Games.
“I was 15 when I moved away, but I don’t like looking at it like it was a sacrifice, because it was something I always knew I would have to do,” she said. “It was a choice I made … even the difficult decisions I had to make were worth it.
Zandee-Hart chose to make the move from her hometown of Saanichton, B.C., to Penticton to attend the Okanagan Hockey Academy (OHA), which she said launched her hockey career.
“It was the best time of my life. I had great coaches and everyone at the Academy were great people, over everything else,” she said. “The academics were strong and everything I wanted out of an academy.”
Her time at OHA also helped Zandee-Hart gain leadership experience, which came in handy when she got the invite to try out for Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team. She played 16 games with the U18 program, winning gold at worlds in 2014 and captaining Team Canada to silver a year later, kick-starting her career.
She is up to 35 international games, having spent two seasons with Canada’s National Women’s Development Team while making her senior team debut in the December Series against the U.S. late last year.
The experience of playing for Team Canada was one Zandee-Hart wanted to have again and again. When given the opportunity to come to Calgary for the year to participate in centralization, she knew she would have to make the difficult decision to take a year off from Cornell, putting her education on hold.
“I will be here in Calgary for the year, so I don’t have to focus on my academics and I can just be in this moment,” she said. “When I was choosing to go to school, I made sure that the coaches supported my ultimate dream of playing in the Olympics. It was difficult to know that I am leaving my team for a year, but even my teammates are very supportive in my journey.”
Just 20 years old, Zandee-Hart is the third youngest player in Calgary, and the youngest defenceman.
She is going to be watching her teammates and gathering as much information on how to balance the mental and physical sides of the game so she can become a better, stronger and more mature player, and make sure she is at her peak next February, if she is lucky enough to be a part of the final roster.
“I am trying to be a sponge as much as I can,” Zandee-Hart said. “I watched these women already play in an Olympics and I have watched them win medals. As much as I am trying to be my own player and person, I am keeping my eye on those defencemen that have a bit more experience than I do and try to take what I can from everyone.”
The one thing Zandee-Hart continues to tell herself is that she will make mistakes, but it is all part of her development.
“It is tough, especially being one of the younger ones – you don’t develop as quickly as some of your peers, but I am still young and still growing,” she said. “It is about being patient, trusting the process and reassuring yourself as well as asking questions when you get the chance. It all keeps me grounded.”
It goes without saying that this year will be an important one for Zandee-Hart, who wants to achieve some big goals, including growing as a player and a person and, of course, accomplishing the No. 1 thing on her hockey to-do list.
“We all want to go to PyeongChang and represent Canada and bring home that fifth-straight gold medal.”