NORTH Vancouver's Hannah Miller remembers calmness in herself and her Canadian teammates in the dying moments of gold medal game of the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship held Jan. 5 in Heinola, Finland.
It might not be the feeling you'd expect given that the Canadians had just called a timeout and were losing 1-0 to the United States with only 22 seconds left in the third period. Miller, however, was still strangely confident.
"It was weird, everyone State was calm about it," Miller told the North Shore News following the tournament. "I wasn't nervous at all, I was like, 'You know what, we've got this.'"
Sure enough, Quebec City's Catherine Dubois scored with 12.7 seconds left to send the Canadian bench into a frenzy and the game into overtime. Now as they gathered in their dressing room before the overtime period the Canadians had the opposite problem - they needed to find that calmness again.
"Coach came in and he was like, OK, let's all take some deep breaths," said Miller. "Everyone was super fired up, we had to just take some breaths and calm down and realize the position that we put ourselves into. We were back in it to win it."
And win it they did, with Karly Heffernan of Belleville, Ont. recording the winner just 40 seconds into the extra frame. That's when, finally, the team could finally let it all out.
"We were all just trying to get out on the ice for the dog pile," said Miller. "I still have some bruises from trying to get out of the gate."
The world championship medal is an early highlight in Miller's blossoming young career. She started playing the sport at age eight at Ice Sports North Shore, following in the skate tracks of her father Jim who played junior A and was good enough to earn a tryout with the Winnipeg Jets. Miller said her parents never pushed her to play the sport but her curiosity got the better of her.
"One day I just told my dad, take me out to practice," said Miller. Her father obliged and Miller became hooked almost immediately. "I was like, 'Dad, I want to play hockey.' And he was like, 'Are you sure? If I go out and buy you all this gear you've got to stick with it.' Ever since then I've just loved it."
Things got more serious last year
when Miller moved to Penticton to join the Okanagan Hockey Academy, switching schools in the process from North Van's Argyle to Penticton secondary. At OHA Miller receives instruction from high-level coaches such as program head coach Rebecca Russell and Gina Kingsbury, a member of the 2006 and 2010 Canadian Olympic teams. Miller said that heading to the Okanagan was "one of the best decisions I've made. . . . (My coaches) are great resources, I've learned so much."
Her family has made sacrifices to keep her in the game too - her mother moved to Penticton to join her and they now share a rental house with two other billeted players.
"The whole family is just onboard with everything. It's great," she said. The move seems to be paying off. Not only has Miller caught the eye of the national program but the 16-year-old Grade 11 student is now sifting through a number of scholarship offers from university programs.
"It's pretty cool all the opportunities that the sport has given me," she said.
It'll take something pretty special, however, to top the feeling of playing for Canada and wearing the Maple Leaf jersey. Miller first played for the national team last August in a three-game series against the United States and she vividly remembers the first time the players got to try on their Team Canada sweaters.
"We all waited so we could put on the jersey together to go out for our team picture. Just goose bumps - it was amazing."
At the world championships Miller was the youngest player on the Canadian team and was used as an offensive specialist, racking up a goal and two assists in five games while earning a lot of power play time.
The championship final was an epic battle with U.S.A. taking command early, outshooting the Canadians 20-1 in the first period while taking a 1-0 lead. As the game wore on the Canadians held the Americans off the score sheet long enough to turn things around and pull off their late-game heroics. At the end of it all came that unforgettable tradition of lining up on the blue line while the national anthem plays.
"It was the most amazing experience of my life," said Miller. "I don't think I've ever sung it that loud before."
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