Those days, when Tania was 5 and 6 years old, set the stage for her lifetime in the game of hockey, as they instilled in her a love and passion for the sport, something she carries to this day.
“I still have memories of skating around Toronto City Hall and the outdoor Ryerson rink when I was little and learning how to glide. My dad had a huge impact on my hockey career,” says Kenny, now 36 years old. “He was really a staple in it and always supported me with whatever my endeavours were, especially for hockey. He never complained driving me across Ontario for games and practices and tournaments. He had two daughters and, even 35 years ago, there was never any doubt for him and he encouraged both of us to play hockey and play sport and set our expectations high. He didn’t see gender as limiting us in what we wanted to do.”
That message has resonated with Kenny as she’s gone from young lover and player of the game to NCAA Frozen Four two-time champion to managing various women’s hockey teams at Hockey Canada and, now, to bumping into some of the greatest male stars of the game in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, as Kenny is an executive assistant for the hockey operations department with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers.
While her father was an inspiration in those early days and beyond, Kenny points to another moment in time that fueled the female hockey fire in her. Prior to 1998, women’s hockey was somewhat known but had not been part of the Olympic Winter Games. That, of course, changed in Nagano, Japan at the 1998 Olympics and Kenny and her family got to experience the Olympics life in Japan and attended a number of games, including the gold medal final between Canada and the United States.
“For me, at that age, it was something that excited me and ignited a passion in me. From that day, playing in the Olympics was always a dream of mine and something that I aspired to,” she says. “Seeing some of the female leaders that came out of that group, in terms of Cassie Campbell, Vicky Sunohara, Jayna Hefford, Danielle Goyette, all those women and leaders became heroes of mine and became a major influence in my life.”
What she did with that passion was continue to work on her game and dream big. Kenny, like many young female players, spent the first few years of minor hockey playing with the boys. During her high school years, she made the switch to an all-female league and never looked back. She started learning of the many opportunities in the game and ended up signing on with Middlebury College in Vermont, a powerhouse Division III school in the highly-reputable NCAA.
Kenny entered her freshman season with somewhat of a target on her back (as did her teammates) as Middlebury went into that year as the defending national champion, the team that all others wanted to knock down. All Kenny and her group did was put together a magical run, defend that NCAA Frozen Four title and do so in enemy territory.
“We were in the final game of the 2005 NCAA Frozen Four and we were playing Elmira in their barn and they have quite the rink; they packed it. It was 300-400 over capacity, like 2300 fans who were not on our side,” says Kenny, chuckling about the memory now. “As a freshman, that was pretty eye opening. Even the support they give their college schools in the US is eye opening to me. We ended up quieting the crowd and just seeing that power and drive and to win your first national championship in front of a crowd like that … wow.”
Kenny would help Middlebury make it a three-peat in 2006, something that has not been done again by any school.
Following her college career, Kenny stepped away from the game for a couple of years but was drawn back in through jobs at BC Hockey and by taking on a role during the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, still considered to be one of the best Olympics ever. She moved into a full-time position with Hockey Canada and ended up coming full circle in some respects by managing Canada’s under-18 female team to a world title in 2018 in Japan. That win came in overtime against the Americans, 20 years after the Olympics in Nagano that set Kenny on this path in the first place. In the role, she also got to know and work with some of her idols.
Kenny now works for the Oilers and assists with all sorts of programs, on and off the ice, including the club’s family and wives services, player relocation, development camps, and is even heading to the NHL Entry Draft this month in Nashville.
Although she’s part of the men’s game now, women’s hockey will and continue to be at the forefront of her mind and what she does each day. Growing the game she loves is something that continues to drive her.
“The love of the game, the competition, it teaches you such important values and life skills of teamwork, respect; in young females and young children, it’s a huge confidence builder to have teammates and to have a group,” she says. “It also teaches you leadership skills, how to have difficult conversations with teammates and it teaches you working towards a common goal with tangible results.
For women’s hockey, there is a passion and a responsibility in many of us to continue to promote and grow the game. We still have a ton of opportunities, a ton ahead of us. That’s a driving force for a lot of people involved, to help make our game better and to leave it in a better spot than we came.”