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Olympic Games: alumna goes for hockey gold

Insights from a veteran medalist at Sochi

Playing in her fifth Olympics, alumna Jayna Hefford believes her team's "best hockey is yet to come" (photo by COC/Mike Ridewood)

Jayna Hefford, who earned a Bachelor of Physical Education & Health degree at the University of Toronto in 2004 and played hockey for the Varsity Blues, is better known as a longstanding member of Team Canada.

Hefford, 36, made her world championship debut in 1997 and has since played in four Olympic Games. She has three Olympic gold medals and a silver to her credit, as well as seven World Championship gold medals. At the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, she scored the eventual game-winning goal that gave Canada the victory – and the gold medal – over the United States hosts.

Last season, Hefford served as the assistant coach of the Blues women’s team, working with head coach and former Olympic teammate, alumna Vicky Sunohara. Now, Hefford is in Sochi as one of the assistant captains of the 2014 women’s hockey team.

While training with Team Canada in Europe, Hefford took time to answer some questions by email.

Are you as excited about your fifth Olympics as your first?
The excitement of competing in the Olympic Games for Canada is always there. I'm so honoured by any chance I have to represent my country. Each Olympic Games brings its own challenges, and I'm really looking forward to getting started with this one! My passion for the game and my love of competition continues to motivate me to get better every day.

How has your role on the team changed over the years?
In my first season, I was very young and I went into the Games not knowing what to expect. There was an element of the unknown. As I gained more experience and have become a veteran on the team there are more responsibilities. It's important for me – and other veteran players – to share our experiences and help the younger players to learn from past successes and failures. I believe our depth of experience is one of our team’s greatest strengths.

Now that you have worked in coaching, does it change your experience as a player?
Any time you step into a coaching role, or one in which you can view the game from above, I think you learn. I've learned a lot from the coaches I've played for and definitely learned a lot from Vicky and my time with the Varsity Blues. I think the coaching experience makes the game a little more cerebral, and that has helped me as a player.

Are you optimistic about a gold medal?
I'm very optimistic of our chances to win gold.  We have a very strong and deep roster, and we have pushed hard the last eight months to be prepared for the Games. It's been a journey of a lot of hard work, lots of games and team challenges. I believe our best hockey is yet to come, and if we can get to our top performance level at the games, we will be a tough team to beat.

Follow Jayna on Twitter throughout the Olympics.

This article is one in a series. (Read more U of T insights into the Games.)

Elaine Smith is a writer with the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education at the University of Toronto.