HARBIN, China - The number nine will play a prominent role at the World Womenís Championship in Harbin China. The tournament spans nine days and features nine teams. To bring a third nine to the equation, IIHF.com will ask one member from each team delegation the same nine questions. Check back daily for a new countryís take on the state of womenís hockey and their thoughts about this yearís World Womenís Championship.
For the final nine questions with, we feature Canadaís Jayna Hefford. Hefford is a long-standing member of the Canadian womenís national team, having been a member since the 1998 Olympics. She has two Olympic gold medals to her credit and eight World Championship gold medals. In 2005, she was named the top forward at the Womenís World Championship.
1. How did you get involved in hockey?
My older brother played and my dad also played a lot. My mom was a coach, too. I guess you can say I really grew up surrounded by the sport. When we werenít playing, we were watching it on TV.
2. Is there a strong hockey tradition in your country?
Absolutely. No other thing brings more pride to Canada than hockey. Thatís why it is such an honor to put on the jersey and represent Canada. So many people care and there is such a pride for all our national teams. Weíre very fortunate to have such a strong backing.
3. What is peopleís first reaction when you tell them youíre a hockey player?
Youíre really small to be a hockey player. (Hefford is 165cm tall)
4. Describe the status of womenís hockey in your country.
It continues to grow. Even though its already fairly popular in the country, thereís always room for even more growth. But now, itís not unusual to go to any hockey rink in the country and see a lot of girls on the ice practicing. We have more opportunities for women to play than other countries thanks to the interest in the sport across the country.
5. Which country do you have the most respect for at the championship, and why?
The U.S. are our rival games and always give us our strongest competition. I love to play games against them because to be the best you always want to play against the top competition. But I also have a lot of respect for the countries where just playing hockey is not traditional and more of a struggle. To have such a dedication and to play against the odds Ė I have a lot of respect for that.
6. What player do you respect the most at this championship, and why?
I would say every one of my teammates because in Canada it is so hard to make it to the national team. You have to invest a lot of time and effort into training just to be considered for the team, and no player is ever guaranteed their spot. You have to work year round to be here. On another team, I think USAís Natalie Darwitz is a great player.
7. What are your impressions of China?
Itís amazing. Iím having a great time. Of course, itís different, but you just have to take it all in stride. Itís incredible to think that here we are halfway around the world and this whole life that I never knew about is going on. Itís very eye opening.
8. What do you envision for Womenís hockey by Sochi 2014?
I think there will be more competition. You are already seeing some upsets here in Harbin, so I think youíll see a lot more teams competing for medals by 2014. I would also like to see an international womenís professional league by then to help the sport develop. Thatís really important for the growth of the sport.
9. What is the biggest challenge facing womenís hockey?
I think players need a place where they can compete at a high level. Like I mentioned, a big missing piece is an open professional international league where players from all nations can make a living playing hockey. Right now, especially in the U.S., a lot of players stop competing after college because thereís no place for them to go. On our team we have a little higher average age because we have a club system, but for all countries itís important to be able to keep on playing at a high level.