Canadian Olympic hockey star Jayna Hefford can take the jokes about being from Toronto as the Stanley Cup playoffs progress.
“I live in Toronto so I’m a Leafs fan so then you have a second team and I like watching Pittsburgh.” she laughed, during an interview at the Royal Bank Cup tournament in Vernon.
“Who doesn’t like Sidney Crosby and the team they have? But, they’re out now so I’m..I find myself hoping for Montreal which I thought I’d never say. I like the way they’re playing, and the energy they have.”
Hefford, in case Haley Wickenheiser is the only women’s team player you can name, has four Olympic gold medals and seven world championship rings. The 5-foot-5 dynamo turned 37 last Wednesday and has a 14-month-old daughter so is unsure about playing another year for her country.
The forward known as ‘Heff’ has discussed Canada’s epic 3-2 overtime victory over the Americans at the Sochi Winter Games with scores of fans since last February. Some male fans have even told her the game ranks right up there with Canada’s 1972 Summit Series win over the Soviet Union.
“Everybody has a story of where they were and who they were with when they watched that game in Sochi. It just shows the impact it has. Canadians are getting to the point where it doesn’t matter if it’s men’s, women’s or it’s sledge, we have such a patriotism for the game of hockey and we wanna win, regardless of who’s on the ice. Our game is growing, our game is fast and entertaining, and I think people realize that.”
The Sochi miracle on ice has brought huge exposure to the women’s game. Hefford is one of 47 RBC Olympians, attending branch openings, client events and charity fundraisers. It’s a great partnership which allows Canadian Olympians the flexibility to train while being paid.
Her late father, Larry, an assistant warden at the Kingston Pen, played hockey. So did her older brother, Mike. Her mother, Sandra, a teacher, used to coach.
Jayna played minor hockey in Kingston, obtained a phys-ed degree at the University of Toronto and in between Olympics and worlds, played for Brampton Thunder in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.
Her partner Kathleen Kauth, a 35-year-old New Yorker who played NCAA hockey for the Brown Bears before joining the U.S. Olympic team, is a co-founder of the Canadian league and also played for the Thunder. Her father, Don Kauth, was killed on Sept. 11, 2001 while working in the World Trade Center.
Hefford, who scored the winner with four seconds remaining as Canada beat the U.S.A. in the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, says there is no family rivalry these days
“She retired a long time ago,” chuckled Hefford. “We played against each other one year and then she retired. It’s been a challenging year, but it’s been the best year of my life, having Isla and the challenges of being involved with doing that and playing. But they (Olympic team) were on board from the very beginning in terms of supporting this crazy year. It’s nice spending time at home.”
I brought up the idea of possibly adding bodychecking to the women’s game but Hefford had solid reasons to maintain the rules now applied.
“I’d hate to see the game change because our game right now is unique in its own right. I don’t think our game has to be the same as the men’s or compared to the men’s. I think you can appreciate both. Right now, our game is wide open. There’s a lot of strategy involved, there’s a lot of skill, there’s a lot of speed. And sometimes when you add the physical play, it can slow that down. I think we have a good brand of hockey right now and I like where it’s at.”
Hefford took in the Vipers-Toronto Lakeshore Patriots game and loved the fast pace and intensity. Her career has gone by just as fast.
“It’s gone by so quickly. You start as a rookie at 19 years old and you don’t really know anything, and then all of a sudden, before you know it, you’re a veteran and a leader, and your job is to share your experience with the younger players. I’ve been to five Olympic games and a number of world championships and it certainly has gone by quickly, looking back on it, but it’s been a great experience and I’ve learned so much from all of those journeys, things that I’ll take away for the rest of my life.”
She had quiet confidence as a teenager and didn’t need any pushing to work hard and improve as a player.
“I didn’t play any hockey in the summer as much I wanted to. My parents encouraged me to get out and play soccer and baseball and different things and I’m thankful for that because I think well-rounded athletes are generally a little more successful.
“The training wasn’t part of it when I was growing up. I had the motivation within myself. I started working out a little bit when I was 14, 15, 16, just wanting to be better and stronger and faster, so it was more of an inner motivation at that point.”
She marvels at Wickenheiser, who has a kazillion goals for Canada, but says the team has plenty of powerful pieces.
“Haley’s a great player and people ovbviously know her and her face, but we’ve got 21 girls who are so skilled and talented. Look at Marie-Philip Poulin (scored equalizer and overtime goals in Sochi). I believe she’s the best player in in the world. She doesn’t get a lot of the credit for it.
“At this point, now, you have to be a complete player. You have to be strong, you have to be fast and you have to be skilled. We have 21 girls who bring so much to the game. Haley’s been a great leader and a great ambassador for the game for a number of years, but we have a strong core of young girls behind her who are gonna carry the torch.”
Kevin Dineen boosted Canada’s transition game and built up a strong rapport with the girls after being named head coach at Christmas. He replaced Dan Church, who resigned for personal reasons in mid Defember.
“Kevin was great. Our team was going through a tough time and it was a shock to us when the coach was released. He came in and he brought so much experience. I don’t know that they could have found someone with more experience than him, in terms of being a player in the NHL, a coach in the NHL, an Olympian, and he had a daughter who played. He was the perfect mould for what we needed.”
Hefford enjoys cooking when she has a spare hour or so. She will try anything and is currently into making salads from recipes by English celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.