When an Olympic gold medal was placed around my neck on February 25th, 2010 in front of nearly 19,000 screaming fans, and 10 million + more watching on TV at the 2010 games in Vancouver, I could not have felt more proud to be Canadian than I did in that moment.
I reached the pinnacle of my hockey career at the age of 25, less than two years ago at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, and it was the most fulfilling experience of my life.
My name is Meaghan Mikkelson and here is my take on what our National Juniors players are going through.
As a fellow Canadian, an Olympic gold medalist, a two-time NCAA Division I National Champion and 2007 All-American, current National Team player, and an aspiring two-time Olympic gold medalist, I know how our National Juniors feel right now as they seek gold in Alberta.
I am not a professional sports analyst, nor did I major in journalism, and I am certainly not going to sit here and break down the forward lines or the defensive pairings, project who will be the starting goaltender, leading scorer, or Canada's hero in this tournament. I am someone who grew up playing boys minor hockey in St. Albert, Alberta, with a dream of playing for Team Canada and winning that gold medal, and based on my experiences and accomplishments, have a pretty good idea of what these 22 players are about to experience.
The challenge that lies ahead of the 22 players that were named to Canada's 2012 World Junior team is huge. In 2010, Canadians all around the World were expecting us to win gold, with anything less being viewed as unacceptable, and most likely as a failure. The players and coaches on this team will undoubtedly face the same extreme amounts of stress throughout this tournament as they strive to live up to our nation's golden expectations.
They will represent Canada on home soil, just as we did in Vancouver. They will experience immense pressure, as they are expected to win gold, no matter what, just as we were. They will face challenges, injuries, and encounter unexpected adversity while playing the most competitive and intense games up to this point in their hockey careers, just as we did. They will create memories that will last them the rest of their lives, and create bonds with their teammates as they spend hours on the ice, in the dressing room, at the hotel, on the bus, just as we did.
What lies ahead is the biggest two weeks of their young hockey careers. A roller coaster and whirlwind of feelings as well as emotions that no one can fully prepare themselves for unless they have been through that exact experience before.
Some of these athletes will remember the disappointment of losing to Russia in the finals and want to make sure they do not experience that same almost incomprehensible level of disappointment again. It will be draining mentally and physically, and will be the biggest hockey challenge they have ever faced in their careers.
I accomplished my dream coming away from my Olympic experience having learned more than I could have ever imagined, not just about the game of hockey, but what it takes to be the best in any situation.
What we faced as a team, and as individuals, in Vancouver is so similar to what these young men are about to experience., However, if they achieve the outcome they have set out to achieve, it could also be the most rewarding and fulfilling experience of their lives.
Meaghan Mikkelson is an Olympic Champion & current member of the Canadian Women's National Hockey Team as well as the Alberta team of Canadian Women's Hockey League. At the 2011 IIHF World Championships, she was named Top Defenceman and was on the Media All Star Team. Additionally, she won 2 NCAA National Championships at her alma mater, University of Wisconsin. Meaghan was married in the summer of 2011, and her husband, Scott Reid, is a goaltender for the Arizona Sundogs of the Central Hockey League.