There’s a saying: Follow your passion, and success will follow you.
Jayna Hefford followed her passion all the way to a plaque in the Hockey
Hall of Fame.
Hefford played 17 seasons at the highest level of the game. The numbers and
accomplishments are staggering. She retired from Canada’s National Women’s
Team in 2015 as the second-highest scorer all-time: 157 goals, 134 assists
and 291 points in 267 games. She won four Olympic gold medals and one
silver. She won seven IIHF Women’s World Championship gold medals and five
silver. She was named Top Forward twice (2004, 2005) and a tournament
all-star in 2004. She won another 12 gold medals at the 3 Nations/4 Nations
How do you pick a highlight from a reel like that?
“If I had to narrow it down to one,” says Hefford, “winning our first
Olympic gold medal in Salt Lake City is probably it. Just the idea of how
that was done – being on a team that wasn’t expected to win and having a
bit of a Cinderella story in the U.S.”
The story is well told. Canada lost eight in a row to its rivals entering
the Games. The team was called for 13 penalties in the gold medal game,
eight straight at one point.
With the clock winding down in the second period, play stopped deep in the
Canadian zone. When Canada gained control of the puck off the ensuing
face-off, Hefford had a step on her defender. She gloved down a pass from
Becky Kellar at the far blue-line, skated in alone and scored on a backhand
deke to make it 3-1 Canada. “I knew there was less than 20 seconds when the
face-off happened,” she says. “But when the goal went in, I had no idea
there was one second [to go] in the period.”
The goal was the eventual gold-medal winner.
Hefford next mentions competing at home in Vancouver 2010. “Being part of
something so special to the entire country and really seeing people engage
around it, that was a big one.
“And then my final game in Sochi [in 2014], not only because it was my
final game but also the kind of game that it was.” Trailing the entire way,
Canada scored twice in the final four minutes of regulation to tie the game
2-2. “I had never played in a game like that where momentum switched so
quickly, and to win an Olympic gold medal in overtime as my final game was
Hockey was always what Hefford wanted to do. She grew up with a backyard
rink in Kingston, Ont. She was skating by the time she was three, playing
hockey by six. “I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t passionate about it.”
Watching the 1990 IIHF World Women’s Championship inspired her to rethink
what her future could look like.
“It was a moment that really defined what my dream was going to be,” she
says. “I grew up thinking I’d play in the NHL. When I realized playing for
Canada was an option that became a goal for me.”
By the time Hefford debuted with Team Canada in 1997, she had established
herself as an offensively-gifted forward. (She recorded more than 1,300
points in minor hockey, and sweaters with her number are no longer issued
in the Kingston system.) But what allowed her to compete for nearly 20
years was her unwillingness to rely on her reputation.
“I think being as passionate as I am about the game, but beyond that
probably my preparation and my want to be a consistent player, to be the
kind of player that people – whether that was my teammates or my coaches –
could rely on. I didn’t want to settle for being there. I was always driven
that if I was going to be part of the team that I could have an impact.”
Hefford also played 13 seasons with the Brampton Thunder. She won two
National Women’s Hockey League championships (1997, 2007) and one Canadian
Women’s Hockey League title (2008). She led the leagues in scoring seven
times and was named CWHL MVP in the league’s inaugural 2007-08 season. When
she retired from the Thunder in 2013, she was the league’s all-time leading
She continues to stay active in the game. She’s been a member of the
University of Toronto women’s hockey team’s coaching staff since 2011. “I’m
doing it, one, because I’m passionate and I love it,” she says. “And, two,
there’s a lot of experience and knowledge that can be shared.” Hefford has
seen the game from a lot of different angles: player, coach, executive.
With each role she learns something new, and that, she says, is what’s made
her a better teacher. “It’s important to give back. It’s rewarding to share
those experiences with young players.”
Hefford was named interim commissioner of the CWHL in July 2018. It was an
opportunity to help promote the visibility of the game and its players.
While the league has since folded, and much uncertainty surrounds the
women’s game, Hefford continues to be an advocate for the sport and the
“I want to see the game grow,” she says. “I want to see it get to a point
where there’s a product and a sustainability model that will allow my
daughters, if they choose to play hockey, to look to. I have different
angles that I look at it from, but I will continue to support the game. I
just don’t know what that capacity will be right now.
“These difficult times have created some really good conversations around
not only women’s hockey but women’s sports. The uncertainly is there, but
I’m really optimistic for the future of the sport.”
Hefford wants players to be true professionals who no longer need to work
jobs elsewhere, with everybody – the market, sponsors – on board to
actively promote the game.
“There’s so much value in these women as role models, as ambassadors for
the sport and as leaders in the next phase,” says Hefford. “It may not be
in hockey, but they’re going to be leaders in whatever they choose to do
Hefford understands as well as anyone that hockey is about much more than
“My whole personality has been shaped around the game because I did it for
so long and I was so passionate about it,” she says. “The skills you learn
through sport, and specifically team sport – commitment, hard work,
preparation, teamwork, communication, accountability, having difficult
conversations – are the ones that make you successful outside the game. I
attribute much of who I am to the game of hockey.”