Hefford netting few rewards

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

Bill Torrey, then a successful executive with the New York Islanders, was asked to describe the magic of Islanders marksman Mike Bossy.

"A lot of time, players look up at the clock and figure it's too late to score," Torrey said. "It was never, never too late for Mike Bossy to score."

Bossy's descendant as the pre-eminent goal scorer of the present era stands 5-foot-4.

"Obviously, I'm not the biggest player," 27-year-old Team Canada star Jayna Hefford said. "The biggest part of my game is speed and reaction and being in the right place at the right time."

KEY GOAL

You remember Jayna Hefford. She's the Canadian forward who scored the key goal of the gold medal win in Salt Lake with two seconds left in the second period. The play began with 14 seconds left and a faceoff in the Canadian end. It was, to Team Canada, to Team USA, to the Zamboni driver, clearly too late in the period to score. It was not, however, to Jayna Hefford who materialized in the clear after a rink-length dash.

Hefford is a member of one of two Team Canada teams contesting an exhibition tourney in Kitchener. The tourney also will involve national teams from Russia and Sweden. Five days of play starts today.

"Jayna has been the most prolific goal scorer in women's hockey and she hasn't gotten nearly the credit she deserves," teammate Cassie Campbell said. "How long has Paul Henderson been living off one goal in 1972, compared with all the goals Jayna has scored. It's ridiculous."

Hefford scored three goals and logged seven points at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics. She scored seven goals and averaged two points a game as Canada won the 2004 world championship. She scored 41 goals in 35 games last season with Brampton in the National Women's Hockey League. You get the idea.

It has occurred to opposing players and coaches that she should be stopped, but it's here where Hefford's genius stands out. One of the women's game's best skaters, she practises the particular magic of the goal scorer: You never see her until it's too late.

Team Canada assistant coach Tim Bothwell, a veteran of 500 games with the New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues and Hartford Whalers, likens her to an old teammate.

"You can make a pretty good comparison between Hef and Brett Hull, although a lot of times Hully's shot would just overpower goalies," Bothwell said. "Jayna's shot isn't as hard but, for her and for him, it's about finding the right spot on the ice and getting the shot off quickly."

It certainly was in Salt Lake, when Hefford recognized linemate Vicky Sunohara was likely to win the draw in the Canadian end.

"We were playing four-on-four so, to me, anytime you have an opportunity with that much open ice you should take it," Hefford said. "Vicky almost never loses a draw, so it was just a reaction play on my part."

Gender, of course, has no impact on the scorer's art. Bossy practised his magic at the margins of the game, when opposing players let up, late in penalties, during what seemed to be dead periods of the game, at the most unexpected, and therefore, the most devastating moments.

"Big goals," Campbell said. "That's what you get from Jayna more than anyone else."

NATURAL ABILITY

The ability to go to the right spot at the right time -- to go, as Walter Gretzky told Wayne, where the puck is going, not where it has been -- can't be imparted by coaching. But you can cultivate what you have.

Hefford, ever the opportunist on the ice, is plodding, not instinctual or emotional, away from the rink. She is mistrustful of an instant reaction. It can take her weeks of thought to make a decision and every one she makes is carefully measured. She is, in other words, precisely the opposite of her on-ice persona.

"I guess the best way to put it is that when I think about things, I try to think about them deeply," she said. "If there's a situation, say inside the team, that is controversial, I never give my opinion right away. I need time to figure things out for myself."


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