May 25, 2011

Women's hockey veteran tells her Olympic story

As published in The Erin Advocate

Some of Erin's young hockey players had a chance to meet one of Canada's best players last week during a fundraising event at Centre 2000, and to try on her latest gold medal.

Jayna Hefford of Team Canada was the guest speaker at a Rotary Club of Erin pasta dinner, which raised money for trails development in the town, and for the fight against cancer.

The kids asked about her favorite NHL player (Sidney Crosby), what other sports she had played (soccer, softball and basketball) and what the team eats after a game (lots of pasta).

The Kingston native plays for the Brampton Thunder and was the first player in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League to record 100 career points. At the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Hefford had five goals and seven assists in five games, on the way to her third gold medal. Since 1997, she has helped Canada win six golds and four silvers at the World Championships – including the silver last month in Switzerland.

"In Canada, there's an expectation that you will win gold," she said. "Nothing else matters – and that's a good feeling."

She said Team Canada hit a low point about ten months before the 2010 Olympics, after losing a World Championship final to their American arch-rivals. They decided they would "do whatever it takes to not be standing on the blue line listening to someone else's national anthem" at the Olympics in Canada.

That included a month of skating, shooting, swimming, running, cycling, yoga and kickboxing in Northern BC. "It was the most grueling training camp I'd ever been to, but it's great when you are part of a team. At the end, it's not about the training, but about finding a way to get through. We were a better team because of it."

They talked extensively about the pressures they faced as Canadian hockey players.

"We got to the conclusion that we have an opportunity here to write our own story, to write our own ending. We worked so hard to get here, there's nothing we'd do differently, and we just have to go out and play."

With a feisty new team spirit, Canada's women started winning consistently. They were unstoppable in Vancouver: 18-0 over Slovakia, 10-1 over Switzerland, 13-1 over Sweden, 5-0 over Finland and 2-0 over the US for the gold.

"I'm just so proud to play for our country. We worked as hard as we could, and wanted to be able to have a gold medal performance on any given day."

Hefford, now 34, has not decided whether to try for yet another Olympic medal. It will depend on whether she continues to enjoy the training, and the contribution she can make to the team. There are many young players hoping for a spot on the roster.

"As you get older, you have to play every game as though it is your last."