There are a lot of factors that make it possible to play 17 years with Canada’s National Women’s Team.
Skill, fitness, hockey intelligence, and the ability to fill various roles.
Jayna Hefford, who announced her retirement from the national team on Thursday, says those are all important but her incredible longevity starts with one
“I really, truly have a passion for the game,” says Hefford. “It’s fun for me and there’s nothing else that I’ve wanted to do. That’s sort of the
foundation of everything. After that, I have always been a believer in working hard. You can get complacent at times but I was pretty aware of that not
happening or trying to not allow that to happen and continue to work hard, regardless of where my position on the team stood.”
Hefford, who was born in Trenton, Ont., and calls Kingston her hometown, leaves the game as one of Canada’s greatest hockey legends, male or female. What
she has accomplished on the ice is hard to fathom, nearly impossible to match.
17 seasons, from 1997 to 2014.
12 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship appearances, including seven titles.
Five Olympic Winter Games, including four gold medals.
267 games, 157 goals and 291 points, all of which rank second in Team Canada history.
And, maybe most impressive, has been Hefford’s ability to stay in the game that long, to compete at a high level throughout her career and, really, to go
out on top.
In Hefford’s first Olympics, the 1998 Games, she played alongside teammates including Cassie Campbell-Pascall, Vicky Sunohara and Danielle Goyette.
Fast-forward to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and Hefford’s teammates were Marie-Philip Poulin, Brianne Jenner and Natalie Spooner, athletes who were
barely in grade school when Hefford competed in those 1998 Games.
She is asked this question a lot and you can imagine it’s a difficult one to answer. Over 17 years with the national team, what are some of her favourite
Hefford’s answer starts with the 2002 Olympic gold medal game, which Canada won 3-2. Hefford’s goal at 19:59 of the second period – the
forehand-to-backhand deke that ended with the puck trickling past American goalie Sara DeCosta – ended up being the game-winner.
“Each year and each Olympic cycle is so different because of the people you’re with and the challenges you face,” says Hefford. “The first highlight is
that first Olympic gold medal in Salt Lake City. It’s a combination of the fact that we lost in 1998 (to the United States), so that was kind of unfinished
business a little bit. And then being an underdog and being able to win a game like that when it was least expected by a lot of people.”
Hefford next mentions Vancouver 2010, when the country came together to host one of the best – if not THE best – Winter Olympics ever. Canada defeated the
United States 2-0 before a sea of red and white at Canada Hockey Place in Vancouver in the final.
“I think the Olympic victory in Vancouver, there was no better feeling than playing an Olympic Games in Canada. I had 18 or 19 people at the final game,
close friends and family,” says Hefford. “Being able to share that moment of how proud our nation was at those games and the way they embraced the athletes
was incredible. Standing on the blue-line after that victory is one that I definitely remember quite well.”
Her third highlight is her third Olympic gold medal, in what proved to be her final international appearance. A late 2-0 deficit turned into a 3-2 overtime
win, and the perfect cap to Hefford’s Team Canada career.
“It’s hard not to include the 2014 victory,” says Hefford. “I’ve never played in a game like that where the momentum had changed so quickly. Obviously to
win an Olympic gold medal in overtime is something that’s pretty special. Thinking back on that victory, the season we had and the challenges in that
season, it still seems a little bit surreal. It’s definitely one that I look back on pretty fondly.”
Those are the big moments, the times when the spotlight was on Hefford and her teammates. But those aren’t the only things she cherishes from the game.
When Hefford talks about hockey, it’s difficult to not get chills. The sport is in her blood, it’s a major part of who she is.
Hefford says hockey “defines my character in so many ways.”
She grew in Ontario and started playing the game around the age of six. Hefford says her parents and brother were incredibly supportive throughout her
“I have to thank my parents (Larry and Sandra) and my brother (Mike), who really instilled that passion in me but also supported me. Once you have a family
of your own, you realize how selfless your life becomes and the sacrifices you make for your kids. It’s hard to maybe understand that until you’re in that
position,” says Hefford, who is now a proud mother of daughter Isla (two-and-a-half years old) and son Lachlan (almost five months old).
“It’s something that I look back on now and maybe appreciate even more. That support I had growing up and, in addition, it being in a time when a lot of
girls didn’t play hockey and it was considered more of a boy’s game. It took a lot from them to support me the way they did.”
Hefford will still be seen in hockey rinks. She is currently an assistant coach with the University of Toronto (Sunohara is the club’s head coach) and,
over the past few years, she has taken some business courses with the hopes of working on the business side of hockey.
Whatever path she chooses, Hefford knows that the skills hockey has instilled in her will be there forever.
“Through the ups and downs and success and the losses, I’ve learned a lot about determination, confidence, re-inventing yourself when things aren’t going
as well, staying in the moment, team work, working with others, and leadership,” she says. “It’s hard to pinpoint a few but I think it has defined who I
am. And I think those are all life skills as opposed to hockey skills and I think they’ll continue to carry with me into my next career.”