On April 4, fans at the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association Provincial championships were treated to the presence of a living legend in women’s hockey. Geraldine Heaney, whose gold medal winning goal at the 1990 IIHF Women’s World Championships in Ottawa immortalized her, was coaching one of the competing teams.
Although her Ancaster Avalanche squad lost a hard fought match (on opening day) against the Grand River Mustangs by a 5-3 tally (in Novice B play), the match held a much greater value. One of the players on the Avalanche is Heaney’s daughter. Like Heaney, her daughter also plays on defense (although her favorite player is Sidney Crosby). The opportunity to coach her daughter is a dream come true.
“I think so. When I was playing, I didn’t think about that too much, but once I got married and had a girl, I had hoped that she’d play the game. It is good to see her play. Girls are starting to play at a younger age and it is great to see more girls play.”
In having led her team to an appearance at the OWHA Provincials is a very rewarding experience. “It is more for the girls. For me, I want to teach the game. It is great that we got this far. It is a great accomplishment for the girls.”
“From the beginning of the year, every player’s development has improved so much. It is more rewarding to see the improvement. To be able to see them play at the provincial level, it is nice to see that for my daughter.”
In February 2013, Heaney (who also won a gold medal at the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games) had the opportunity to participate in an outdoor game on Ottawa’s Rideau Canal. The game featured alumni from the Canadian National Women’s Team along with alumni from the NHL’s Ottawa Senators.
“It was great and I just loved it. It was 3-on-3 and I remember doing a line blockage shot. They were asking ‘What are you doing?’ but I was so used to doing it. I felt like a kid again and it was a lot of fun!”
With the adjustment to coaching, Heaney emulated many of the methods employed by her former coach with the Beatrice/North York Aeros, Ken Dufton. “He was definitely an influence on me as a player. I learned so much from him. He coached me for 25 years (with the Aeros).”
“If you look at my practices, the drills I do are like how he runs them. We don’t waste ice time. There is less talk and we work on skills development.”
During the OWHA Provincials, the city of Ottawa is also hosting the 2013 IIHF Women’s World Championships. With the event marking the second time that the city has hosted the event, fans and media alike have taken the opportunity to remember Heaney’s legendary contributions to the game.
A unique fact about Heaney is that her image once graced the box of Apple Cinnamon Cheerios in Canada. The accomplishment occurred in 1997 and signified another remarkable breakthrough for women’s hockey.
“This was right before Nagano. More sponsors got on board. General Mills approached myself and three other players, it was a big deal. I went in the store and saw it and was like ‘Wow!’ It was a neat feeling. The sponsorship was one of the first to put money in the women’s game and it meant we no longer had to pay for play.”
For a generation of Canadians, Heaney’s goal at the 1990 IIHF Women’s Worlds was their initial exposure to the women’s game. Heaney’s accomplishment is well worthy of acknowledgement. The entire week in Ottawa is one that will provide her with a lifetime of memories.
“Obviously with the world championships coming in this weekend, and getting to coach my daughter, I think so. I am also being recognized among the alumni. The recognition will be in Canada’s game against Finland. It will be great to see how they’re doing.”
“I haven’t seen some of them in 10, 15, 20 years! It will bring back a lot of memories. We will talk about the times when we played, and about how far the game has come. At those first World Championships (at the time), we did not realize what it did for the sport.”
The experience will be enriched knowing that her daughter and the rest of the Avalanche squad will be in the stands for the alumni celebration (during the Canada vs. Finland game). “The whole team is going. It will be exciting for them to see a Canadian women’s game. Unless it is near your home, you wouldn’t get the chance to see the top players competing. It will be a great experience for them.”
Her contributions to the game truly placed women’s hockey in the larger sporting conversation. Among the first class of female players inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame (including fellow Canadian Angela James), Heaney is helping to mold and shape the next generation of hockey superstars.
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
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