wakefield feature
Life in Linköping
After winning Olympic gold in Sochi, Jennifer Wakefield embarked on a Swedish adventure that has changed the way she looks at things on and off the ice
Jason La Rose
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March 29, 2016
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One of the great things about hockey is the places it can take you, and the people it can help you meet; it really doesn’t matter where in the world you go, the game remains the same, but different.

Few members of Canada’s National Women’s Team know that better than Jennifer Wakefield.

While many of her Team Canada teammates ply their trade in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL), Wakefield has taken her talents to Sweden, suiting up the last two seasons with Linköping HC of the country’s Riksserien, one of the top women’s leagues in Europe.

What was at first a temporary opportunity has turned into a long-term stay in Scandinavia.

“A really good offer came up to play in northern Sweden right after the Olympics [in Sochi], and instead of going home and joining my CWHL team, or taking the year off, why not tour Europe,” Wakefield says. “It was a great chance to get over there for a month, and I’ve loved it so much that I never really came back.”

The Pickering, Ont., native started her Swedish adventure with Piteå HC of the women’s third division before signing on with IK Guts, a fifth-division men’s team, and Linköping HC of the top-level Riksserien in 2014-15.

She moved to Borås HC, in the men’s third division, to begin this season before committing full-time to Linköping shortly after the campaign began.

And she has found success, both individual and team; after helping Linköping to the Riksserien championship in 2015, leading the league in playoff scoring, she racked up an impressive 55 points in 18 just games this year, and got Linköping back to the Riksserien final.

She never got the chance to finish the job this season, though. With Canada opening its pre-worlds camp in Penticton, B.C., in the midst of the final, Wakefield was forced to watch from the other side of the Atlantic as her team dropped the final two games in the best-of-three championship series.

While her departure made headlines in Sweden, Wakefield had the full support of her teammates, and says the decision to leave wasn’t much of a decision at all – when your country calls, you answer.

“It was an unfortunate situation, one where I can’t be in two places at the same time. But once they call, you don’t say no to Hockey Canada. I was glad to come back; it’s unfortunate that we lost, I really thought they would pull it off without me, but it wasn’t really a decision.”

The opportunity to play in Sweden hasn’t just provided a change of pace for Wakefield, it has given her a chance to skate with players from other countries (the Linköping HC roster includes seven nationalities – Austrian, British, Canadian, Norwegian, Slovenian, Swedish, and Swiss) and learn even more about the game.

“Growing up on NHL-sized ice, we never had many chances to play on anything else, so it’s been really cool to play on the international-sized ice,” she says. “I’ve also had the chance to take strengths from other players and try to incorporate it into my game; one of the biggest things is learning from other players what works for them, and with a combo of the habits from Hockey Canada, you can add a little flair from other countries.”

But Wakefield’s reasons for going to – and staying in – Sweden reach far outside the hockey arena.

For her, it’s as much a cultural experience as it is an athletic one, a chance to live a different lifestyle with different people and learn about different ways of life away from the rink, opportunities she wouldn’t get playing with familiar faces in the CWHL.

“I definitely think the leagues in North America are very good, I would never take anything away from them, but you need to find where you’re comfortable on the ice, and in life,” Wakefield says. “Hockey is such a big part of our life, but you have to look outside the rink, and if you’re having a really cool experience and the hockey is good and competitive, that just elevates your game more.“

If it sounds like a life-changing experience, that’s because it has been.

From trips to the X-Games in Norway with teammates, to a visit to the historic Christmas market in Gothenburg with new friends, Wakefield at times seems more excited about what she’s done off the ice than the success she has had on it.

“It has opened the doors to the way different cultures celebrate different holidays, and day-to-day living, and just what the norms are,” she says. “I’m lucky to be around people from so many different countries, and it’s pretty cool to see what their perspective of life is. We get into these deep philosophical conversations, and it’s interesting to see how they perceive things, compared to how North Americans do.”

But as the old saying goes, all good things must come to an end.

With just one more season to go before Olympic centralization, Wakefield knows it may be in her best interest to return to Canadian ice next year to play with her national team colleagues and build chemistry as Team Canada works towards PyeongChang 2018. The pull of life in Linköping, though, is hard to ignore.

“That’s a bridge we’ll have to cross after worlds,” she says. “I’d like to go back [to Sweden next season], I think it has really helped my game personally, but I’m going to go wherever Hockey Canada wants me to go; if they want me to play more locally that’s what I’ll do.”

Wherever she laces her skates next season, be it Linköping or Toronto, in the Riksserien or CWHL, Wakefield is a better player, and a better person, because of her Swedish sojourn.

“If you’re happy off the ice, chances are you’re going to bring that on the ice as well,” she says. “So both playing and having a great experience personally has had a huge impact on my game.”

For more information:

Vacant
Director, Communications
Hockey Canada
403-777-4557 

 

Esther Madziya
Coordinator, Media Relations
Hockey Canada
403-284-6484
[email protected]

 

Spencer Sharkey
Coordinator, Communications
Hockey Canada
403-777-4567 / 905-906-5327 (mobile)
[email protected]

 

Katie Macleod
Coordinator, Media Relations
Hockey Canada
403-284-6427 / 403-612-2893 (mobile)
[email protected]

 

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