2019 oohic jayna hefford

For love of the game

Jayna Hefford turned her passion for hockey into a Hall of Fame career; now she has turned that same focus to the future of the women’s game

Wendy Graves
June 18, 2019

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 Cup.

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 pretty neat.”

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 scorer.

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 athletes.

“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 beyond that.”

Hefford understands as well as anyone that hockey is about much more than sport.

“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.”

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

[email protected] 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

[email protected]

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

[email protected]

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