One of the most underrated superstars in women’s ice hockey, Jennifer Wakefield is an incredible ambassador for the game. Complementing the impressive body of work in her career that has seen emerge as a hockey hero in Canada, the US and Sweden, the 2017 edition of the IIHF Women’s Worlds provided Wakefield with the opportunity to suit up in her 100th game for Canada.
Such a milestone for Wakefield was testament to an incredible career built on consistency, reliability and durability. Raised east of Toronto in Durham Region, where she called fellow star Natalie Spooner a teammate for most of her life, her rise to prominence is one that has almost flown under the radar. Although she does not occupy the spotlight as much as her other fellow Team Canada competitors, rather soft-spoken and humble, she is a cherished friend and valued teammate whose team-first approach and playmaking abilities have defined a career with Hockey Canada that dates back to 2007.
Reaching the century club in Plymouth, Michigan, as Canada faced off against Finland on April 1, hardcore Canadian fans could have been forgiven if the final score looked like an April Fool’s prank. While Wakefield’s appearance alone provided historic significance, the fact that Finland emerged with a 4-3 win, as Ronja Savolainen logged the game-winning tally, their first-ever against Canada in IIHF Women’s Worlds history certainly added to the feeling of history.
In spite of Canada outshooting Finland by a 38-26 margin, with goals scored by captain Marie-Philip Poulin, Rebecca Johnston and Blayre Turnbull, goaltender Noora Raty played one of the biggest games of her career, nullifying six power play opportunities. With the victory, Finland snapped a winless streak that extended beyond 70 games.
As a side note, it actually signified the second time that Raty defeated Canada this season. In January, Raty was the winning goaltender when Finland overcame Canada’s U22/Development Team to capture the gold medal in the Nations Cup. Coincidentally, Raty played against Canadian goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer in both contests.
Although Wakefield did not register a point in her milestone game, she would make a significant impact in her 101st game. Taking on Russia in Canada’s third game of the 2017 IIHF Worlds, Wakefield opened the scoring with a power play goal at the 14:30 mark of the first period, as assists were credited to Haley Irwin and Meghan Agosta, both teammates of Wakefield at the 2007 Canada Winter Games and 2014 Sochi Winter Games.
Wakefield would follow it up later in the first with her second goal of the game. Scored at the 16:51 mark, with Irwin gaining her second assist of the game, it provided Canada a three-goal advantage against Russia, while allowing Wakefield to reach the 40-goal plateau for Canada. Adding an assist in the third period, Wakefield’s three point output helped propel Canada to a convincing 7-0 victory.
With Canada preparing for its rematch against Finland in the semi-finals, as Wakefield hopes to win the second IIHF gold medal in her career, there is another aspect to her hockey career that is truly worth its weight in gold. Considering that Wakefield competes professionally in Sweden, it would be easy to overlook her achievements across the Atlantic, compared to her peers who compete in North America, either at the collegiate or professional level.
After playing for a team based in Pitea, following the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, the season to follow saw Wakefield truly attain the status of a world-class competitor. While she was a catalyst on offense for HC Linkoping in the 2014-15 campaign, logging an astounding 18 goals in regular season play, she would also record a pair of points in a 5-0 win over AIK for the Swedish elite women’s league championship. While the title added to a long list of glories for Wakefield, there was another achievement that could best be described as empowering.
Building on the legacy of former Canadian teammate Hayley Wickenheiser, who played 21 games in 2008-09 for the men’s team Eskilstuna Linden, Wakefield would also gain the unique distinction of having competed in men’s professional ice hockey in Sweden. Signing with the Division 3 men’s club IK Guts, based out of Norkkoping, Wakefield’s scoring proficiency was just as prevalent. Recording a solid five goals and eight assists, while appearing in 15 games for IK Guts, Wakefield went from scorer to pioneer, breaking barriers, while proving that hockey is for everyone.
Considering that Manon Rheaume, who first broke the gender barrier with the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, is a Michigan resident, she has been in attendance at the 2017 IIHF Women’s Worlds. For the groundbreaking achievements that have defined Wakefield’s career, it is a fitting tribute that she gets to play in the presence of a fellow legend, each an admirable role model representing the potential that the next generation of women can achieve in hockey.
Photo credit: Hockey Canada