Jayna Hefford: a champion for women’s hockey

By Andrea Gunn

Just before Jayna Hefford returned to her hometown as a spectator for the Canada–USA Hockey Rivalry game, we talked to her about her early hockey days in Kingston and her ongoing work with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association.

Hefford loved hockey from a very early age. “I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be playing hockey,” she says. The whole family loved the sport: watching Hockey Night in Canada was a weekly family activity.

“I dreamed of playing in the NHL and winning the Stanley Cup,” she remembers, “and my parents never said, ‘That’s not going to happen.’ They never suggested, ‘Why don’t you try basketball instead?’ They could tell I loved the game and they encouraged me to keep going. They never made me feel like it was something I shouldn’t do, just because most girls weren’t doing it.”

Without a girls’ hockey team in Kingston at the time, six-year-old Jayna Hefford joined a boys’ team. “I played three years of boys’ hockey,” she says, “and then joined a new girls’ team, with the Kodiaks.”

Instrumental to Hefford’s development as a hockey player was her Kodiaks coach, Beth Duff.

“Beth was a big believer in character development. We learned, from a very young age, about the mental preparation needed to play hockey, and how you get to a place where you can optimize performance. She was just so fully committed to what we were trying to do and towards developing good people, not just good hockey players.”

At that time, the Kodiaks had only three teams: one for girls 10 to 13, one for girls 13 and up, and one for women. Hefford played with Kodiaks teams all through grade school and high school, often playing with – and against – girls several years older.

“Now,” says Hefford, “I don’t even know how many girls’ and women’s teams there are in Kingston, from house leagues to competitive – the growth has been amazing. It’s nice to have been a part of that growth. It’s so exciting to see where girls’ hockey has gone in Kingston – and now we have a Canada-U.S. game coming to Kingston and it sold out in two days! It just goes to show the support that is here.”


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In 2002, the newly formed Greater Kingston Girls Hockey Association (which had amalgamated the Kodiaks and another girls’ association, the Comets) presented Jayna Hefford with its very first Ice Wolves club jersey to honour her ground-breaking work in women’s hockey. Just a few months earlier, in Salt Lake City, Hefford had scored the game-winning goal in the gold medal game against Team USA with four seconds remaining in the second period. It was her second Olympic medal and her first gold.

She would go on to win three more Olympic gold medals with Team Canada.

Jayna Hefford’s spectacular career in hockey – her five Olympic medals, seven gold and six silver medals from the World Championships, her induction into the Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame – have inspired girls and women to pursue the sport for years. But there are still hurdles, ones that Hefford wants to break down, through her current work with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA).


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One of the PWHPA’s goals is to create a single, professional women’s North American hockey league. Key to attaining that goal is creating visibility of – and accessibility to – hockey by girls and women.

“I’m so passionate about the game,” Hefford says. “But it’s not an extremely accessible sport. It’s an expensive sport. So, if we want to have the sport continue to grow, we want to make sure that we are inclusive, that everyone can feel they can be part of it, whether it’s as a player or a coach, an administrator, or a fan. And we want to make sure that women are part of it all.

“To keep women in the game,” she continues, “it’s important that women are visible, and that young girls get to see the Marie-Philip Poulins and the Kendall Coynes and the Hilary Knights and all the other great players. That’s how you spark a dream. When people can see themselves and see a future for themselves in the sport, they’re going to want to be a part of it.”


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She’s excited to be a spectator at the Team Canada – Team USA Rivalry game at the Leon’s Centre. “These teams are as good as they get, in any sport. And watching the game live, in a sold-out arena, there’s a lot of energy and electricity.”

On Sunday, November 21, at the Canada–USA Rivalry hockey game, Hefford’s Ice Wolves jersey will be raised to the rafters of the Leon’s Centre. There, Jayna Hefford’s name will stand in good company with the names of other Kingston hockey greats – Doug Gilmour, Mike O’Connell, Brad Rhiness, Ken Linseman, Tony McKegney, Chris Clifford, Keli Corpse, David Ling, and Mike Zigomanis.

It’s a powerful signal to all the girls and women who play with the Ice Wolves, not to mention the many other Kingston hockey fans.

“It’s a huge honour,” says Hefford. “It shows the level of support that I’ve always had in this community. I’m excited that my young kids – who never saw me play – will be a part of it too. They’ll get to see that – as hopefully they see in what I work on and the way I do my work – that anything is possible. They’ll see the male jerseys in the rafters, and they’ll see a female jersey join them, and that’s a strong message.”


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Tickets for the Kingston Rivalry game between Team Canada and Team USA sold out in two days. But you can still watch the game as it’s broadcast live in Springer Market Square: Sunday November 21 at 5pm. It will also be broadcast on TSN.

Follow Jayna Hefford on Twitter: @J16H and Instagram: @jaynahefford

Learn more about the PHWPA: pwhpa.com