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Zandee-Hart an emerging leader for Team Canada


It is no secret that the Canadian national women’s hockey team’s dressing room is full of well-established leaders.

From captain Marie-Philip Poulin to veterans like Brianne Jenner, Jocelyne Larocque and Blayre Turnbull, the team does not lack leadership.

Although she hasn’t been a national team regular for very long, 25-year-old defenceman Micah Zandee-Hart has already emerged as a unique and important voice on a star-studded roster.

Playing at her first Olympic Games in Beijing in February, Zandee-Hart averaged 17:08 of ice time and had four assists in seven games to help her team win gold. The Saanichton, B.C., product holds the distinction as the first B.C.-born player to play for the women’s national team at the Olympics and win gold.

Zandee-Hart doesn’t wear a letter for the national team, but in the eyes of the people around her, she’s an emerging leader.

“She has a really good sense of the dressing room,” said Jenner of Zandee-Hart. “She has a finger on the pulse of the team. She just knows what to say at the right time. She was probably one of the most prominent voices for us at the Olympics, just in the dressing room.”

The national team began a tradition last year of having one player address the rest of the team before each game, in the form of a speech, a song, or a dance. In Zandee-Hart’s case, she was one of only a few players who was chosen twice to speak during the Olympics, and she wrote a story as her pre-game address for both occasions.

“The story itself was definitely for our team, and it was about our team and our journey,” said Zandee-Hart. “I just wanted to be a little bit creative with it. Writing is kind of my way of getting my point across.

“The funny thing is a lot of stuff in that story was things that were actually said by players on the team. So, it was not all from my own head. It's obviously been a wild ride the past two years with COVID. So, that gave me a lot of content.”

Larocque, who considers Zandee-Hart to be one of her closest friends on the team, says it was exactly what the team needed at the time.

“It was phenomenal,” Larocque said of Zandee-Hart’s pre-game story. “People were crying. That's how moving that it was. I had no idea that she was such a good storywriter. But it's something that I hope that she does on the side because she's very talented.”

Zandee-Hart spent four years in the NCAA with the Cornell Big Red before going full time with the national team. It was in Ithaca, N.Y., where she became the face of the program.

For Doug Derraugh, Cornell’s head coach since 2005-06 and an assistant coach for Canada last season, there is a reason Zandee-Hart is the only player he has made a captain as a sophomore.

“[She’s] someone that her teammates all look up to and that's in everything that she does,” said Derraugh. “Someone that the players were very comfortable coming to and speaking to, and quite honestly, someone that I was very comfortable coming to and sharing things that we wouldn't maybe share with the entire team and discussing options and solutions aside from the entire group.

“[She] immediately showed leadership qualities that we were looking for, whether it was in practice, whether it was in training, whether it was off the ice, in the classroom, in the community. Just a wonderful human being.”

As well established a leader as she is on the ice and in the locker room, it is a trait that also extends off the ice. A member of the LGBTQ+ community, Zandee-Hart understands the importance of being open and a role model with her platform.

“I think for me to be out and be comfortable in my own skin and show the next generation of young girls and young boys in sport and specifically hockey that it's okay to be yourself,” she said. “I wouldn't say I'm the most outspoken, but I do think it's important for me at least, now that I'm comfortable, and I feel safe in that I can be myself and other people can see that.”

When it comes to the origins of her leadership ability, Zandee-Hart says the biggest leader that she looked up to in her life is her mother, Patricia. The youngest of four kids, Zandee-Hart and her siblings were raised primarily by her mom. 

“My mom just always led with love and a great sense of humour, and she always treated people with respect,” said Zandee-Hart. “She always lived by the notion that you've never walked in anyone else's shoes. I just watched the way that she led our family. She led her job and the people that she worked with, and [the way] she treated people. I saw how it affected other people and how it brought people together.”

The journey to winning Olympic gold in 2022 was not without adversity for Zandee-Hart. After being one of the final cuts from the 2018 Olympic team, she admitted she wasn’t sure if she wanted to continue with hockey.

“My whole life had revolved around a dream to represent Canada at the Olympics, so having that dream ripped away from me, I kind of felt like my world was crumbling and I didn't know what was next,” she said. “I kind of fell out of love with hockey. I was kind of starting to play for the wrong reasons I think in my own head, and I just wasn't enjoying it anymore. And to me that was always the reason I did it is because it's what I loved to do.”

She credits the people in her life, including teammates at Cornell and the national team, for helping her find the joy in the game again.

The adversity would continue in 2021 as injuries piled up for Zandee-Hart. A fractured thumb in January was followed by a left shoulder injury in March that required surgery. It was six months before she was cleared to play a game. As a result, she missed the 2021 worlds in Calgary where Canada ended its gold medal drought at the tournament.

“To miss out on almost a year of hockey due to an injury and miss a big tournament like that was disappointing,” said Zandee-Hart. “But I think to watch my teammates and how well they did and have so much support from them in that recovery has motivated me to come back and try to be the best I can be.”

Zandee-Hart returned to the ice in the fall as she centralized with the team. Known for her steady play at both ends of the ice, she is a player who can play on special teams and log a lot of minutes.

“She's one of those defencemen, she's so reliable,” said Larocque. “You know what you're going to get from her, game in and game out. I love having teammates like that, that are really consistent, and you know that she's going to be tough to play against defensively and she's going to make really good first passes.”

Another key figure who has had a big impact on Zandee-Hart is director of Canada’s women’s team Gina Kingsbury. Zandee-Hart says Kingsbury recruited and coached her as a teen at Okanagan Hockey Academy in Penticton, B.C., and helped her navigate the NCAA recruitment process. 

“She believed in me a lot as a player and a person and that gave me the confidence to be myself at that age,” Zandee-Hart said of Kingsbury. “And then moving forward now I think she's someone that knows me and my values and maybe knows me a little bit deeper than other people. I think it's always nice to have a face you've known for a while, within this environment, which can be kind of intense sometimes.”

“From day one, if I was a gambling person, I would have put my house on the fact that she would be on this team and she’d be playing more and more of a greater role on this team,” said Kingsbury.

“She's just one of those athletes that, from a young age, understood the whole sum of being an athlete, on and off the ice – the approach, the work ethic, the dedication, and just being an incredible teammate. She's a leader from as young as when she came in out of OHA, had all of the leadership qualities you would hope to have in your athletes.”

Now healthy with the injuries behind her, Zandee-Hart will be counted on – both on and off the ice – as she looks to chase her first world championship gold medal.

“She's so wise, she's a very calming presence, and you just want to be around [her], said Larocque. “She is funny, nice, caring. She's just like one of those teammates that it's like she checks all those boxes of like what a good teammate is.”