On Monday, Nov. 12, Jayna Hefford was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame. She’s the sixth woman to enter as a player — joining Cammi Granato (2010), Angela James (2010), Geraldine Heaney (2013), Angela Ruggiero (2015) and Danielle Goyette (2017).
The interim CWHL commissioner was gracious enough to answer a few questions from The Ice Garden.
The Ice Garden: First off, congratulations on this weekend.
Jayna Hefford: Thank you.
TIG: I’m sure it was quite a whirlwind.
Hefford: It was a crazy four days. It was an amazing, exciting time for me and my family.
TIG: I know you took part in a lot of the different activities that happened this weekend from the Legends Game to being honored at the Maple Leafs game. Is there one moment in particular that stood out?
Hefford: I mean certainly the Induction Night is a really special night, obviously. But [also] playing in the game on Sunday was really fun. I think for myself and the other hockey players that are all apart of the event, that’s where we feel more comfortable — on the ice. I think that was the one event where we did kind of just go out and have fun and not think too much about the other stuff that was going on. It was really just going out to play hockey. So that was pretty fun.
TIG: You scored a goal in that game, right?
Hefford: I did, yeah!
TIG: That’s got to be a fun experience. So what did it mean to be inducted?
Hefford: It’s a huge honor, and it’s not something you really think about really think about in your playing career, you know? You think about winning championships and winning Olympic medals. You never really think about being inducted in the Hall of Fame. It’s pretty surreal and the whole weekend felt like that — and you know even now still. It’s really just a great honor [and] humbling. It’s a great celebration of all the people that were part of my journey.
TIG: Transitioning to the CWHL, you’ve been with the league for pretty much its entirety even before it was the CWHL. You played with the Thunder for what seems like forever. Your career obviously is storied. You have a trophy named after you. What has it been like watching the growth of women’s hockey and also the CWHL?
Hefford: It’s been amazing to think how quickly the game is growing and evolving. That being said, I believe there’s still a long way for us to go. But I think that the change I’ve seen since the first season, 12 years ago now, it’s just been amazing and it’s great to see the athletes continuing to get better, stronger, and faster. The product on the ice continues to get better.
Now you know I’ve been on the other side of it. We’re doing everything we can to ensure that people know about us and they know where to find the game, and that we are providing the most elite league for women to play in. So, that’s the focus. I said I know we have a long way to go, but I think every day it’s just kind of looking at it as what can we do today to elevate the sport. That has been my focus.
TIG: If you could pinpoint one thing that you think could be changed in the next two years, what would that be?
Hefford: The biggest thing to me is the visibility of the players. So you know really focusing on that and focusing on building out our superstars. We have so many amazing players in our league: Hilary Knight, Marie Philip Poulin, Brianna Decker, Natalie Spooner, Laura Stacey. It goes on and on. I think any successful professional league, regardless of the sport, is built on its superstars. It’s an entertainment factor and that’s what people want to see. And we have so many amazing stars and we just, in my opinion, need people to see them and know them. That’s going to make them all want to go out and see them play.
TIG: Do you think that having one professional league is kind of a step to that or the end game of that?
Hefford: There’s no doubt there needs to be one professional league where all the best players are playing. I felt that way as a player when I was still playing the game. I wanted to play with the best players in the world. I still believe that. The road to get there is a little trickier than maybe I realized, and I think that most people realize that. But I think as long as we have a willingness and a belief that’s what needs to get done we’ll work through those challenges along the way.
TIG: You’re currently the interim commissioner but what are the chances of seeing Jayna Hefford, full-time CWHL commissioner?
Hefford: I don’t know, you’d have to ask the board members, I guess! When I took this role on, it all happened fairly quickly and I think we kind of discussed the fact that the interim for the season and see where everybody was at when that was done. Hopefully we’ll be at a point where they feel like I’m an asset to the league and that I can help direct it to a good place.
I’ve really enjoyed it so far. I believe in what we’re doing. I believe in where I think the game can go. So you know at this point, it’s all been good. So we’ll see when the season is over and we all have a chance to reflect on, hopefully, the progress we’ve made throughout the season.
TIG: Who was your favorite teammate?
Hefford: Oh my Gosh. I have so many. I don’t know if I could say one! Vicky Sunohara, one of my closest friends.
TIG: Some of the social media reactions from the opposing players called you one of the hardest players to play against. Who was your hardest opponent?
Hefford: I’ve always said Angela Ruggiero. Being a big, strong, skilled defenseman — we faced each other over a long period of time ... We definitely saw each other quite a bit.
TIG: And one last one. Who would your dream linemate be? From any era, can be current, or can be past.
Hefford: Probably Marie-Philip Poulin. I believe she’s probably the best player in the game, as we speak. Then I would say Vicky Sunohara. She was [one of] my long-time linemates and it was always great playing with her.