Mikkelson skates to Olympics

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Meaghan Mikkelson isn’t taking anything for granted as a two-time Olympic gold medallist.

The St. Albert defenceman is playing for a spot at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games despite the glowing Olympic resume and seven appearances at the IIHF worlds with Team Canada.

“It would mean absolutely everything to me to play in the Olympics again,” Mikkelson told the Gazette after Tuesday’s 2-1 win over the St. Albert Tire Warehouse Raiders at Go Auto Arena. “We haven’t selected our team yet so you’re still pushing for a job.”

The national team member since 2007 is now the oldest player on Team Canada’s roster at age 32.

“Obviously coming in my first couple of years I was one of the young ones and then as I’ve progressed I think your role changes, your experience, the kind of player that you are and the person that you’ve become,” Mikkelson said. “I’ve been very fortunate over the course of my career to have great leaders that have come before me and I just try to be a good example for the younger players.

“Obviously I have a lot on my plate but I’m just happy that I’m still here.”

The Canadian Women’s Hockey League defenceman of the year with the 2016/17 Calgary Inferno believes she is a better person on and off the ice after the birth of her son, Calder, on Sept. 27, 2015.

“I feel like having my son has given me more perspective. It’s taught me a lot about just enjoying the journey and staying present in the moment,” Mikkelson said.

Three months after the birth of Calder, who was named through a national Twitter contest, Mikkelson was cleared for full competition and the next month attended the national team selection camp for the 2016 worlds and hasn’t looked back.

“Overall I’m the strongest that I’ve been in my career. I’ve always said as long as I feel good, as long as I still love playing, as long as I still want to get better and keep getting better then I’m going to continuing keep playing,” said Mikkelson, who is balancing hockey and motherhood in an Olympic year when the national team is centralized and credits her husband, Scott Reid, and extended family for allowing her to play the sport she loves.

A recent busy stretch for Team Canada – 2-1 overtime classic against the United States on Sunday at Rogers Place to finish the six-game series with five wins and one loss against its arch-rival, the St. Albert homecoming against the Raiders and Wednesday’s 2-2 draw against the Maple Leafs at Bill Hunter Arena during the Journey To Gold series against Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League teams – allowed Mikkelson to stay close to her biggest fans.

“Playing at Rogers Place in front of 17,000 fans and my family being there and my son being there and just looking up and knowing that they’re in the stands was amazing,” Mikkelson said. “And then coming home to St. Albert and having them there for the game, it’s pretty special.

“I just try to remember that I’m very lucky and very fortunate.”

The first female to play rep boys’ hockey in St. Albert with the 1997 atom AA provincial champion TD Lightning drew the loudest applause during the pre-game ceremony, similar to the ovation she received in 2013 when Team Canada rallied to tie the Raiders 3-3 in St. Albert, as well as the post-game shootout as the fourth of six shooters for Team Canada.

“I don’t think that the fans realize how special that is for me, even at the start of the game when they announce the starting lineup and to have the crowd cheer as loud for me as they did or going into the shootout. I know I didn’t score, that would’ve been nice, but when I’m up to shoot in the shootout and they’re giving me a great loud cheer it means a lot to me,” said Mikkelson, a forward with the bantam AAA St. Albert Gregg Distributors Sabres during her minor hockey days before going on to win back-to-back NCAA championships with the Wisconsin Badgers. “I just hope the fans know and the City of St. Albert knows that I appreciate everything that St. Albert minor hockey has done for me in my career because there is no way that I would be here without them.”

Sarah Potomak and Blayre Turnbull scored 21 seconds apart in the first period and Genevieve Lacasse stopped a game-high 28 shots in the fast-paced and entertaining affair in front of a pro-Team Canada crowd.

“It was a great turnout here in St. Albert tonight. I knew that we would get a great crowd so it was just really exciting for me,” Mikkelson said.

Team Canada is 7-4-2 (39 GF/31 GA) against AMHL teams and the results count in the league standings.

“I hope the boys realize they are a big part of our journey to the Olympics,” Mikkelson said.

At the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, Mikkelson overcame adversity to play in the gold-medal game after breaking a bone in her right hand in practice the day before the semifinal against Switzerland and in the epic 3-2 overtime thriller against the United Sates logged 21:44 minutes of ice time and also recorded her first point, an assist on Brianne Jenner’s goal with 3:26 left in regulation time to cut the Americans’ 2-0 lead in half.

The two teams are expected to clash again for gold at the upcoming Olympics in South Korea and Mikkelson is confident Team Canada is ready for the challenge with its mixture of players from Sochi and the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, plus several promising newcomers.

“We have a lot of younger players that have come in and really pushed for jobs. The calibre of players in our program just continues to get better and these young players bring a lot of energy. We have a great group, a great dynamic and great leadership so it will be exciting,” said the top defenceman at the 2011 worlds, who added her sixth silver medal at worlds in 2017 to the gold medal she won in 2012 with Team Canada.

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Jeff Hansen

Jeff Hansen joined the St. Albert Gazette in 1991. He writes about sports, athletes and teams from St. Albert and area.