Emerging as an impact player for Canada at the 2023 ISBHF U21 Women’s Worlds in Liberec, Czechia, the rise of Jenni Simpson represented a feel-good story. Hailing from Glovertown, Newfoundland, found in the northeastern section of the province near the Ken Diamond Memorial Park, Simpson’s standing as a world-class competitor turned her into a local hero.
Beyond the prestige of winning the gold medal, a key highlight for Simpson involved the jubilation of wearing the Canadian jersey for the first time. Standing as a highly poignant moment, it accentuated a memorable day which actually saw Simpson play for Canada twice in one day.
Beginning with a morning face-off on July 3, 2023 versus Slovakia, Simpson recorded a goal and an assist in a convincing 5-1 final. Finding the back of the net at the 16:54 mark, Simpson’s assist on team captain Brooke Lannon’s goal took on a highly emotional context, evoking feelings of home. With nine Newfoundlanders on the roster, Lannon calls Placentia home.
Among the tournament highlights, Simpson experienced a unique milestone during her first day of tournament play. With the 5-1 victory against Slovakia, Simpson’s international debut was made more memorable with recognition as Canada’s Player of the Game, an achievement that provided a rewarding gratification.
“Being given Player of the Game felt like a huge accomplishment. When I think back on the tournament, the Slovakia game is definitely a high point. The tournament had just begun, and our team wanted to start strongly. It was nice to be able to contribute to that and it made me feel like I deserved my place on the team.”
An evening match versus host nation Czechia saw Simpson add her name to the scoresheet once again. Recording the first goal of the game at 2:07, Simpson’s goal was assisted by Neleh Vigneau Sargeant, setting the tone for their offensive synergy throughout the remainder of the tournament. Prevailing by a 3-1 mark, as goaltender Maggie Jones, another star player from Newfoundland, won both games on July 3, Canada climbed to first place in the tournament standings.
“I think that you can train and prepare physically and mentally for tournaments like this one, but I do not think anything could have prepared me for the feeling that came with wearing a Canadian jersey. I was so incredibly proud and excited to be representing Canada and to be competing in an international event.
Remembering the thrill of walking out onto the floor for our first game and seeing all of my teammates dressed in the Maple Leaf and thinking that this was going to be the best experience of my life.”
Finishing second for Canada in team scoring, trailing assistant captain Neleh Vigneau Sargeant, Simpson’s 14 points ranked third overall in the tournament. Having found the back of the net six times, her eight assists tied Slovakia’s Nela Lopusanova for the tournament lead.
Simpson’s finest statistical performance took place during a convincing 18-0 outcome versus Great Britain. Enjoying a six point outing, including a hat trick, all three of her assists took place via goals scored by Vigneau Sargeant. Recording at least one point in all six of Canada’s games, the overall achievements on offense provide a tremendous point of pride. Through it all, an admirable humility emerges. Recognizing the collaborative effort involved in the path to success, Simpson represents the essence of character, committed to overall success.
“I was not expecting to be among the top scorers in the tournament. It was a very surreal feeling. The team was playing against a lot of elite players. Nobody could score or accumulate assists by themselves. I was lucky to be on a line with people that I had a lot of chemistry with. We were able to set up a lot of goals (especially Neleh, who seemed to have a knack for hitting the back of the net).”
In a tournament defined by triumph for Simpson and the Canadian roster, the spirit of friendship and family were equally fulfilling. Getting acquainted with players from other nations, the common thread of hockey saw borders evaporated. Surrounded by friends and family, the gold medal game was made greater by the attendance of her peers, as the gathering of international players added significant star power.
“I think that THE highlight of the tournament was winning gold and getting to share that moment with my team, coaches, and family. I also appreciated the time spent interacting with other teams.
It was really nice to be able to create a friendship with girls from other countries. A few teams actually came to cheer us on in the finals! Other highly emotional moments that come to mind are Jesse’s goal in the final and Maggie’s mind-boggling save when she kicked the ball out of the air.”
As the gold medal represented a defining moment in Simpson’s highly promising hockey odyssey, her involvement in the golden goal is poised to provide a lifetime of memories. Scored by Jesse Dzikowicz, a skilled forward from Winnipeg, at 8:23 in the first period, it proved to be the only goal Canada needed. Fellow Newfoundlander Maggie Jones was a stonewall for Canada, recording 21 saves. Worth noting, Jones earned tournament Top Goaltender honors.
Defeating Slovakia by a 1-0 mark, Simpson was credited with the lone assist. In recalling the events that led to the iconic goal, she indicates how the efforts of Vigneau Sargeant, recognized as tournament Top Forward, proved crucial in grabbing the game’s first lead.
“I remember the winning goal really well. Neleh had just won a battle for the ball and had passed it off of the boards to me. Jesse took a shot from the right side of the floor, and I was able to watch the ball go in from beside the net. It felt like a pivotal moment in the game. All of a sudden, our team had the lead, the momentum, a bench that was eager to play, and a goalie that, in that moment, was probably more effective than a brick wall.
Being an important part of that play, meant so much to me. Being surrounded by teammates just made the feeling even more incredible. It was not just Neleh, Jesse, and I that contributed to the goal.
Everybody on the floor and the people that had just gotten off were major contributors. Ball hockey is a sport that demands a reliance and trust in your teammates. Each shift you are working to create opportunities for yourself and others. It was nice to see everyone’s effort pay off in the form of a goal.”
Fittingly, Vigneau Sargeant and Simpson shall be joined by Jones on Canada’s entry at the 2024 ISBHF Women’s World Championships in Visp, Switzerland. With the experience from Liberec serving as a coming out party, the proudest experience may be the connection to her provincial roots. Joined by eight others from Newfoundland as members of the golden roster, including Jones and team captain Brooke Lannon, their collective presence served as more than another compelling chapter in Canada’s international excellence. Together, they inspired an entire province. Recognition on social media from Judy Foote, the province’s Lieutenant-Governor signified an exceptional feeling of relevance, demonstrating how ball hockey has taken an important place in the province’s sporting conversation.
“I am incredibly proud to be from Newfoundland and being recognized by the province along with the other players from home was very special. I know that across the province several players were recognized by their hometowns.
Most of what makes Newfoundland special is the people. In my experience, the majority Newfoundlanders are supportive, enthusiastic, kind, and hard-working people. Being able to represent these people at Worlds was an incredible honor. Being recognized for the team’s accomplishments by friends, family and community was absolutely amazing.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”