Geraldine Heaney is often called “the Bobby Orr of women’s hockey,” and just like the great Boston Bruins defenceman, one spectacular goal this Canadian legend scored always stands out in the minds of fans.
Who can forget the image of Orr sailing through the air after putting the puck past St. Louis’s Glenn Hall for the Stanley Cup-winning goal on ? In Heaney’s case, she got the winner versus the Americans in the gold medal game at the inaugural 1990 IIHF World Women’s Championship in Ottawa, and she did it in equally exciting style. Jumping into the rush, Heaney picked up the puck from France St. Montour, deked her way through an American defender, and put it top-shelf over USA goalie Kelly Dyer. The Canadians added two more goals to seal a 5-2 victory.
To go with her seven World Championship gold medals, Heaney capped off her playing career with gold at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. Twice named the Best Defenceman of the World Championship (1992, 1994), she scored 44 points in 46 career games with the National Women’s Team.
Today, the 39-year-old serves as the head coach of the University of Waterloo’s women’s hockey team. Heaney recently shared some candid observations on women’s hockey with HockeyCanada.ca.
HockeyCanada.ca: During your playing days, who was the most difficult opposing forward for you to contain?
Geraldine Heaney: I'd have to say probably Cammi Granato. She played the whole time I was there. She was always a dominant player. She was very deceptive. Sometimes you wouldn't notice her, and then all of a sudden she was there. She really knew how to put the puck in the net. She knew the game well, and she was a great athlete.
HockeyCanada.ca: What did you think of Riikka Nieminen, Finland’s all-time leading scorer?
Heaney: If you looked at those [European] countries, she'd be the number one player you'd look out for. She was a great skater with great hands, lots of individual skill. It would have been amazing to see her playing alongside more skilled players than she perhaps had with Finland. She had to do a lot of things on her own, and she probably could have been even a better player.
HockeyCanada.ca: When do you think we’ll see another upset like the one Sweden pulled against the USA in the 2006 Olympic semi-finals?
Heaney: Anybody that really knows hockey knows [Swedish goalie] Kim Martin stood on her head, and it was a one-game deal. I don't think that'll happen again anytime soon. It's a wake-up call for Canada and the USA. You have to be ready. Even if you've got more talent, when you're facing a hot goaltender, anything can happen, especially in a one-game scenario. There are so many girls playing hockey in Canada every year, and the national team keeps getting better. But these other countries are still playing catch-up.
HockeyCanada.ca: What are the main challenges you face as a coach in Canadian women’s university hockey?
Heaney: We lose all our best players because they go down to the USA on scholarships and play there, right? They're obviously a lot better at the top level of university hockey in the States. They are able to offer to pay for women's education when they go down there. Sometimes when we're recruiting, you already know which players are going to go. I wouldn't go waste my time talking to one of those players, because I can't offer them anything. All I can tell them is that Waterloo’s a good school, depending on what you want to take, and we run a good hockey program. That's it. You get some girls with academic scholarships, but it's mostly athletic scholarships. That's the toughest part. For next year, Ontario has allowed ten $3,500 bursaries to offer kids. But the University of Waterloo isn't doing that. Makes life even tougher for us. Eventually down the road, we'll tell our athletic director: "How can we compete with these other schools (including Laurier, right across the street)?" There's no choice. If I get $3,500 toward my education, I'm going there. It's a bit tough now. But a good thing is that the girls are starting at a younger age. So even players who aren’t your better ones are better than they were years ago. Last year was my first year of recruiting, and I brought in about four players. Well, they're my better players! The ones that had been there before, they made it maybe because they'd played just a little bit of hockey. As long as they can play with some skill, I feel you can teach them the rest. But I don't feel like bringing in players where I have to teach them how to pass and shoot, things they should know before coming. They can obviously improve, but they have to be at a certain level. The new players coming in now are above the level of my fourth-year players.
HockeyCanada.ca: How about prospects for a women’s pro league like the WNBA?
Heaney: The WNBA is great because they have the NBA behind them. When it first started, I went down to a game and it was amazing. That's what women's hockey needs. They need the NHL to support them. If they could pay these players, it would be huge. Right now, they have to work or go to school full-time. It's tough for them to commit to being the best they can be. Right now, it's not there. In terms of getting people out to the games, people go when the players are wearing the Team Canada jersey. But if club teams advertise and say there'll be X number of Olympians on their roster, they won't get the same number of people out, even though it's some of the same players. They have to be able to sell the game better. There are too many weak teams around. The [Mississauga] Aeros will win 6-0 or 7-0. Who wants to see those games? If you watch the Aeros versus the [Calgary] Oval [X-Treme], it's competitive. It's like the Worlds. You have your top three or four teams, and then it drops off.