Jennifer Wakefield, former Olympian, former member of the Toronto Furies, has played in Linköping Sweden this year. But she was born just outside Toronto, so I decided she totally counted as a local player of interest.
Wakefield started winning gold medals when she was 18 and playing in the Canada Winter Games, and she hasn't really ever stopped. She's a scoring forward who has a habit of leading her teams in points.
As an Olympian, college star, CWHL player and member of the Swedish team Linköping, she's had a varied career that has one theme: goals. She likes to score them.
Wakefield did the fairly traditional career path at first, opting for US colleges with top-notch hockey programs. She excelled at the University of New Hampshire, leading her team in freshman scoring her first year, and overall scoring in the second.
She played for Boston University in her final two years, and the goals kept piling up.
Canadian National Team
She enters her sixth year playing for Team Canada at either the World Championships or the Olympics, and she's already won one Olympic gold, one World Championships gold and three silvers.
This 2013 video shows her (number 9) in action at the World Championships and winning the game with a slick shootout move.
Wakefield went to Sweden to play in the Riksserien, or women's league, but also to get the opportunity to challenge herself in men's hockey. She's played parts of two seasons on men's teams so far, and may do so again if the visa issues or ice time problems, whichever really derailed her attempt this year, can be ironed out.
She had this very interesting take on the often asked about difference between men's and women's hockey—hitting.
"It was tough because just going into the corners is a lot different," Wakefield said. "I find the hitting a bit easier just because you have that advantage to use your body, whereas in girls' hockey, you have to take more of an angle, and have, I guess, better footwork to check someone.
In her first year for Linköping HC, 2014-15, she finished 18th in the Riksserien in scoring, but appeared in only 15 games. She was fifth in points per game at 1.47, and 18 of her 22 points were goals. She led the league in playoff scoring with 3 goals and 6 assists in 5 games as Linköping took the title.
This year, she played for Linköping again in 18 regular season games and finished fifth in league scoring and first in points per game with an astonishing 3.06. Thirty-eight of her 55 points were goals.
2016 Riksserien Playoffs
Linköping took the first game of their best of three playoffs with a 2-0 win over Luleå last Wednesday, March 16.
Wakefield opened the scoring in the second period and Florence Schelling got the shutout. Hers is a name to watch out for as well, as she's one of the Swiss team's goalies. Wakefield was a force for the entire game according to Swedish reports.
As we reported, Hockey Canada refused to allow Wakefield to stay for even the second game, much less the final yesterday. They want her in Canada for training camp for the World Championships that begins on March 28.
After Wednesday's game, she spoke to the Swedish press about the issue. (Translations by Google, with clarifications by me.)
"Of course I am disappointed, because we have grown as a team the past six months. It seems silly to leave, but I do not think I will be missed. The team is not built around one or two players, but more can step forward," says Wakefield.
Are you disappointed in the union [Hockey Canada] that does not let you stay?
"It's business. World Championships is very important and it is an unfortunate situation, and it is desired that the flight to Vancouver would not take so long. Had the trip been shorter, and the time difference is small, it could have been solved perhaps."
Have you tried to persuade the union [Hockey Canada]?
"I talked to them before the game and tried to fix that I could stay until Saturday, but there were no good trips from Luleå on Saturday. The best flight would take 49 hours. Unfortunately, we really looked into everything," she says.
That optimism proved to be misplaced. Luleå took the two games in their home rink on the weekend 5-3 and 4-1 and won the championship. It was a historic win in front of a reported record-setting crowd, but Linköping has to be disappointed in their performance, and the inability of the team to cope with one missing star forward. A larger concern is if the team and the league are having second thoughts about putting players they don't have any control over on their team. Wakefield was not the only Canadian player on Linköping or in the Riksserien.
For Wakefield's part, she's looking toward the World Championships where she will see a lot of her former teammates on team Sweden. Her future isn't certain yet, she has not signed a contract in Sweden for next year, but there's more opportunity now in women's hockey than every before. It's not a retire at 25 sport anymore, and that is a benefit to all of the players.