In October, four-time Canadian Olympic gold medalist Jayna Hefford of Trenton, Ontario will be inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. Hefford won a gold medal in women’s hockey for Canada at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Turin, the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver and the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.
In addition to Hefford’s four Olympic gold medals, she has won seven gold medals at the Women’s World Hockey Championship. Since her retirement, Hefford has been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto (2018) and was the interim commissioner of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League before it folded in 2019. Here is my exclusive one-on-one interview with Hefford.
Q: Congratulations on being inducted into the Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. How meaningful is this experience for you?
A: “It is an amazing honour and recognition. It is Canada’s highest honour to be inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. It reminds me of the Olympics. For a long time I was a hockey player, and represented Hockey Canada. When you go to the Olympics and walk into the opening ceremonies, you represent Canada. You are no longer a hockey player, speed skater or skier. You are just like Canada. To be inducted into a hall like this which is beyond hockey (is special). Some of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame’s mandates are looking beyond the win, recognizing people who are impacting and influencing sport beyond their playing careers. It is certainly a huge honour to be recognized here.”
Q: This is the second time you have been inducted into a major museum in Canada. What was it like for you to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto this past November?
A: “I mean that was incredible as well. That is the pinnacle of hockey in Canada. It is something you do not dream about. You dream about obviously winning championships and Olympics, but never dream about going into the hockey hall of fame. It was such an elusive club to be a part of. It was an incredible experience as well.”
Q: Looking back at your hockey career, if there is one moment that you are the most proud of, what is it?
A: “I think probably the gold medal I won at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City. We were on a team that was not expected to win and on a team that had such a difficult season. We had so many challenges along the way. We were in a gold medal game that was much like our season. We had officiating that was pretty challenging. With the game being in the United States, and to overcome all of that stuff after losing to the United States at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, it was the perfect Cinderella story. There was a little redemption after losing that first Olympic gold medal in women’s hockey that Canada wanted so badly. My first Olympic gold medal has to be the highlight.”
Q: In the gold medal game in women’s hockey between Canada and the United States at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, American referee Stacey Livingston called eight straight Canadian penalties. Were they all legitimate penalties?
A: “Some of them. Definitely not all of them. (Hefford chuckles.)”
Q: How did the transition go from playing to being the interim commissioner of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League work out for you?
A: “It was a huge learning experience for me. It was a real opportunity for me to have an impact on the game in a different way. Despite the disappointing ending to the league, I believe women’s hockey has never been in a better place. There has never been more momentum behind the women’s game and to see the solidarity of the players coming out of this, I think we are pushing the game forward. I am really optimistic about the future.”
Q: Maybe discuss about the unification among the women’s hockey players further. I think that is extremely impressive right now.
A: “I think you have to go through those tough times to get to those good days. I think we had to recognize the fact that the league and the model that we had worked for 10 or 11 years, but in order to continue to advance the game the way we should, we need different modelling, we need more infrastructure and resources. We certainly did not want to be in the position where we were taking the game backwards. We truly want a professional women’s hockey league. We want these players to be able to earn a living wage. You can debate what that is, but it is certainly not $2000 a year, or what a lot of them were making. The CWHL was successful for a number of years, but if you want to make this a professional league, we can’t rely on sponsorship and donations for that to happen. We need the infrastructure behind us. Players understand the economic challenges of the women’s game and are coming together in a really mature way. They are showing leadership in that group, and are making a decision that will impact them in a big way and will more positively impact the next generation. I just think it goes to show the type of athletes we have in hockey, their willingness to step up and be leaders, and ask for more and push for more. I am really proud of their response. I am really proud of the way they are doing it to make sure that they make this better for the next group of players.”