As expected, Team Canada’s women’s hockey team is off to a flying start at the 2018 Winter Olympics, having won its first two games against the Olympic Athletes of Russia and Finland.
In pursuit of an unprecedented fifth consecutive gold medal, Canada has a pair of notable – albeit unsurprising – absences in Hayley Wickenheiser and Jayna Hefford. The PyeongChang Games are the the first in which neither of the now-retired veterans are participating since women’s hockey became an Olympic sport, twenty years ago.
Hefford, 40, will be among the global audience tuned into Wednesday night’s (Thursday afternoon in South Korea) matchup between Canada and the United States, the perennial powerhouses in the sport as both teams close out the preliminary round.
“I think it’s going to be a lot harder to watch on TV than it was to actually play,” Hefford said. “You have a little bit of control when you’re on the ice, but at home I think it’s going to be a lot of different emotions, that you’re going to have a hard time getting out.”
Barring a monumental upset, the same two teams are expected to clash in the gold medal game at the same time next week.
In the event that the Americans avenge the crushing Olympic defeats suffered at the hands of their archrivals in Sochi, and Vancouver and Salt Lake City, Hefford would be disappointed, yet understandably not as devastated as her fellow Canadian citizens.
Her partner is Kathleen Kauth, a bronze medallist with Team USA at the 2006 Olympics held in Torino, Italy.
The couple welcomed their third child, a daughter Arwen, nine-and-a-half months ago. Arwen’s sister Isla is four years old, and their brother Lachlan is aged two.
“I really want to see a good game, I’m cheering for Canada but I think if you have a good game you push the sport to a new level, you make it better and it’s fun to watch,” Hefford said when asked to predict the intensity of the rivalry in their household on game day.
“So we might cheer for different teams, but it’s going to be fun to watch and it’s all in the spirit of the Olympic Games and cheering on the athletes themselves.”
In the two decades that have elapsed since Hefford was awarded a silver medal that was eventually succeeded by four golds, the Kingston, Ontario native has witnessed not only an exponential rise in the talent level of female players, but also a monumental cultural shift in how the women’s game is perceived.
“When I started, it was really odd to see a girl in a rink carrying a bag, they were probably playing on a boys team,” she said. “Now, you go in on a weekend and you don’t even think twice about whether it’s girls or boys.
In terms of the game at the elite level, it’s just so good. The players come up at 18, 19 years old and they’ve already played for Canada, they’ve played in international competitions, they’ve worked with skills coaches since they were eight years old. So the game is very different, but it’s all moving in a fun way to watch. The game’s fast, it’s physical, and it’s really skilled.”
The women’s gold medal game is one of the most-anticipated events of the Games, for fans on both sides of the border.
The private viewing party expected to be held in the Hefford-Kauth home would be the only one at which its hosts have combined for six Olympic medals.
Jayna Hefford (left) and Kathleen Kauth are CWHL and Olympic alumnae.
In 2016, Rob wrote “Hockey’s Enforcers: A Dying Breed”, now available at Chapters and Indigo stores everywhere.