Thirteen years ago, Jayna Hefford was on top of the world, a member of Canada’s National Women’s Team, an IIHF World Women’s Championship gold medal around her neck and the first Olympics to feature women’s hockey on the horizon.
At the same time, Meghan Agosta was a bright-eyed 10-year-old, with her own dreams of world championships and Olympic gold.
“I went to Jayna’s hockey school when I was 10, and when I left I looked at my dad and said ‘You know Dad, wouldn’t it be something to be able to play with her one day?’” Agosta said Friday, her 23rd birthday. “And now, not only to be on her team, but to be on her line – it’s amazing really.”
What’s more amazing, though, is that 13 years after her national team debut, Hefford continues to be an offensive force for the Canadian women. In every pre-Olympic tour (save for 1998, but since she scored the gold medal-winning goal, she can be forgiven), Hefford has either led Canada in scoring or finished a close second.
She racked up 30 points (22 goals, eight assists) in 26 games prior to the 1998 Olympics, 21 (10-11) in 20 games prior to Turin 2006, and finished just a single point behind Hayley Wickenheiser with 21 (11-10) in 17 pre-2010 games.
Throw in a remarkable 44 points (24 goals, 20 assists) in 28 NWT Midget Series games – 12 more than the second-best total – and it appears Hefford is ready to chase her third Olympic gold.
“The last few years, I have worked really hard to make sure I was prepared for this,” Hefford says of another run at an Olympic title. “I’ve had a terrific opportunity to skate with the best players in the world, and I feel like I’ve done everything leading up to the Games to make sure I feel good and I’m ready to perform.”
Performing is not something Hefford has had a problem with this season; along with fellow National Women’s Team veteran Caroline Ouellette and Agosta, the trio has dominated, combining for 57 points in 17 international games, and 108 points in 28 Midget Series games.
“Caro and I have played together for a long time; she’s a big strong girl, really patrols the middle of the ice well and supports us,” Hefford says of Ouellette. “Myself and Agosta, I think it’s about our speed and it’s about finishing our opportunities. I think we have a good idea of where each other are, we think the game similarly, and I think from the beginning it has just clicked. We’re really looking forward to these next couple of weeks together.”
As good as Hefford is on the ice, she has been even better off of it. As one of just four players who will take part in their fourth Olympics (Jennifer Botterill, Becky Kellar and Hayley Wickenheiser are the others), she has taken an advanced leadership role this season – as evidenced by the ‘C’ she wore on her jersey for select games this season.
Canada will have seven Olympic rookies in its line-up when it takes to the ice for Saturday’s opener against Slovakia at Canada Hockey Place, and Hefford says it’s all about controlling the emotions.
“You want to take in their energy and make sure they appreciate how big this whole thing is, but also remind them that this is the biggest thing – it’s bigger than anything we’ve experienced as Team Canada, with the Olympics being at home,” she says. “The biggest thing for them is to realize that once we step on the ice, it’s not much different; there will be more people watching, but in terms of the game we play, and how we perform, it’s all the same as usual.”