Jayna Hefford has been hired to lead the recently formed Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association.
Hefford replaces Bryan Hicks, who began July 1 but is no longer with the PWHPA.
“About two weeks ago, I got a call from Kendall Coyne and [PWHPA advisor] Ilana Kloss,” Hefford told ESPN. “It’s hard to turn down when you have people like that. All along, I’ve wanted to be a part of it, I just didn’t know where that might fit in.
“I certainly believe in what they’re doing, and respect the way they’ve gone about it. I’m obviously passionate about the sport and want to create something for the next generation for next players. “
Hefford, 42, is one of the most decorated players in women’s hockey history — for both Team Canada and the now-defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League — and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018. She was serving as interim commissioner for the CWHL when the league folded this spring, citing an “economically unsustainable business model.”
That left the United States-based National Women’s Hockey League as the only professional hockey league in North America. However many of the top players — including Team USA’s Hilary Knight, Kendall Coyne Schofield and Brianna Decker as well as Canada’s Marie-Philip Poulin and Shannon Szabados — decided not to play in the NWHL, or any professional league this season until a more viable league emerges.
That led to the formation of a union — the PWHPA — because, as Coyne Schofield said at the time, “we are fortunate to be ambassadors of this beautiful game, and it’s our responsibility to make sure the next generation of players have more opportunities than we had.”
Hefford said she wanted to let the dust settle after the end of the CWHL before she made a decision about her future.
The PWHPA has 173 dues-paying members, nine chapter regions (Boston, Buffalo, Calgary, Markham, Minnesota, Montreal, Toronto, the tri-state NY/NJ/CT area and “other”) as well as a nine-player board (Coyne Schofield, Knight, Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, Alyssa Gagliardi, Brianne Jenner, Liz Knox, Noora Raty, Kimberly Sass and Szabados) who will help guide decisions.
Hefford said that most of the chapter regions have already arranged training opportunities and facilities for players to stay in shape and train while they are not playing with an organized team or centralized with their national programs.
There will also be at least six showcase events this season at various cities. The first event, which will be announced soon, will be this fall in one of the eight chapter cities.
“If the showcase is Saturday and Sunday, we’ll be looking to do something on the Friday night beforehand that engages with the community and young athletes,” Hefford said. “It’s important to these women that they are out here and they are connecting with the people they are trying to change the landscape for.”
Hefford will help the members of the PWHPA navigate professional opportunities, and she expects to have ongoing talks with the NHL about how they might be able to support or create a professional women’s hockey league that satisfies their needs.
“In my experience, you absolutely need the infrastructure and those resources [of the NHL],” Hefford says. “I don’t know if it’s just about dollars. You’ve got to have that platform; the infrastructure part is really important. We found that out with the CWHL.
“It’s not about someone coming in and saying, ‘X amount of dollars and I want to run a pro league.’ We’re looking for something that is a long-term solution. Sustainable, viable, all of those things. But ultimately it’s all about the 5-or 6-year-old-girl right now, and what does she have to aspire to when she’s 18 or 19 or 20 or post-college?”