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Hall of Fame

Hefford used gold mettle to inspire Canada on way to Hockey Hall of Fame

Versatile, innovative forward helped women's team win four straight Olympic titles

by Tracey Myers @TraMyers_NHL / Staff Writer

The 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame induction is Monday. This class includes NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, and Willie O'Ree, the first black player in the NHL, in the Builders category, as well as former players, Martin Brodeur, Martin St. Louis, Alexander Yakushev and Jayna Hefford. Here, staff writer Tracey Myers profiles Hefford.

In 2007, Jayna Hefford reassessed her career.

Hefford, 30 years old at the time, had already accomplished a lot in hockey. She won a silver medal with Canada at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, the first Olympics to have women's hockey. The forward's last-second second-period goal, the eventual game-winner, against the United States earned Canada its first women's hockey gold medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, and the team won gold again at the Torino Olympics in 2006.

She wanted to continue, but she didn't want to just be another player on the roster.

"I just remember making a conscious decision that if I was going to keep doing it, I wanted to get better and I didn't just want to be on the team because I could do what I've always done and probably make the team," Hefford said. "I wanted to make sure I was still an impact player, and I could make a difference and could still remain a real pivotal player in the game."

So Hefford adapted, doing more work individually as well as with a skills coach who helped revamp her game. She scored 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in five games at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and three points (goal, two assists) in five games at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, helping Canada win two more gold medals to make it four straight.

Video: Jayna Hefford on being inducted into the HHOF

"She was innovative in adjusting her shot and skating stride," former Canada forward Jennifer Botterill said. "She continued to evolve. I think about playing with her from 1998-2010, and she kept going to 2014. There are young, skilled players coming up, but she remained a huge impact player at every Olympics. That's pretty amazing to remain a significant contributor. She re-embraced change so she could be better and compete at this very high level."

Hefford finished her international career ranked second all-time for Canada's women's team in points (291), goals (157) and games played (267) with four Olympic gold medals and seven IIHF World Championship gold medals. Playing for Brampton of the National Women's Hockey League from 1998-2007, she scored a league-best 252 goals in that span. And on Nov. 12, Hefford will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

"When I did get the call, I was caught off guard. It hit me harder than I thought even though I knew it was possible," Hefford said. "It was really emotional, something I'm very proud of. But thinking of everybody who played a part in that, it was more emotional than I thought it would have been."

The defining moment of Hefford's career came at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics in the gold medal game against the United States. Hefford took a long pass from defenseman Becky Kellar-Duke and scored on a backhand shot on goalie Sara DeCosta for a 3-1 lead with one second remaining in the second period. The goal proved to be the difference when the U.S. scored with 3:33 left in the third.

Hayley Wickenheiser, a center who won Olympic silver (1998) and gold four times (2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014) with Canada, said that goal epitomized Hefford.

"I think of her as clutch and silky-smooth mitts, you know?" Wickenheiser said. "She always had a real nice knack around the net to score, and that's not something that everybody has a player.

"That [goal] gave her the confidence that she was going to be a great, complimentary player who could play with really good players and make them better. She had the ability to compliment players who could make plays and could finish it off, which is something is a rare quality. Players who can put the puck into the net, that's a premium to find these days, and she's definitely one of the best ever in women's hockey in doing that."

As Hefford's game changed, so did her stature with the team. Hefford admits she was never a vocal player, but that didn't matter. She had made her impact with her play and was Canada's associate captain for the 2010 and 2014 Olympic teams.

"When you're going through history like that and playing on so many different teams, leaders can be made up of so many different things," former Canada forward Lori DuPuis said. "She was the first one to say, 'if I'm not having a good game, I'm not having a good game.' It wasn't, 'I should be on the ice.' That spoke volumes to the other players. It was by example. Other players didn't always understand consistency was key, but you could always look to her and be motivated by that. You knew what to expect from her every single game. And when she did speak in the dressing room, it was probably not out of frustration but more of a motivator to say, 'listen, guys, we can do this.' It really uplifted the team to go out and do something special."

Chicago Blackhawks assistant coach Kevin Dineen, who coached Canada's 2014 women's team, said Hefford's leadership was a huge asset. He also called Hefford, "a Marian Hossa-type player," comparing her to the right wing who won the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

"In that [2014] tournament, she was first over the boards on the penalty kill. On the power play, she was there. She could play high-end minutes and was a real cerebral player. That's why I say a [Hossa] comparison," Dineen said. "She was always a big part of the outcome of the game. She was all character."

Hefford's impact on the game continues. She's the interim general manager for the Canadian Women's Hockey League and she and DuPuis have operated their girls hockey school in Kingston, Ontario, since 1998. The school steadily grew in popularity, with more than 100 girls at some camps.

"When you can go onto the ice with someone like Jayna Hefford, and you can put your hand on medals and listen to her stories and hear what she went through and how she went through the process of making the Olympic team, it really makes people think, we can do it too," DuPuis said. "We all looked up to NHL players, but it's really impossible to be that. To see you have role models now that are playing on the Olympic team, playing in the CWHL, it's really something for young girls to look up to."

Hefford is giving to the next generation. She knows the women's game can be greater. Just as she did with her own game 10 years ago, Hefford will do what's necessary to bring women's hockey to another level.

"I'm proud of where the game is now but I think we can really grow," Hefford said. "I think we can provide a better situation for the girls now and that's what we're trying to do with the CWHL: Build the game, build the players and their profiles and make people aware of what great ambassadors and role models they are. There's so much growth opportunity for the women's game, still. So I won't be too happy until we can continue to push further and further. I guess that's the athlete in me."

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