Geraldine Heaney became known as the Bobby Orr of women’s hockey for this one magical frozen moment in time. Playing for Canada at the inaugural women’s world hockey championships in 1990, Heaney scored a goal that in many uncanny ways, resembled the one Orr produced as a member of the Boston Bruins to win the 1970 Stanley Cup against the St. Louis Blues.
In the same way that Orr was captured by a photographer in mid-flight as he put the puck past the Blues’ Glenn Hall, Heaney sidestepped an American defenceman and off balance, falling to ice, chipped the puck up and into the net. You’ll see The Goal – as it came to known – repeated on highlight reels all the time and probably again on Monday night when Heaney becomes just the third woman inducted into the Hockey Hall Of Fame.
Heaney is part of a varied and storied 2013 Hall Of Fame class that includes builder Fred Shero, power forward Brendan Shanahan, plus two of the greatest defencemen of the past quarter century, Scott Niedermayer and Chris Chelios.
Growing up in Toronto after her family emigrated from Northern Ireland, Heaney noted that most of her role models were male NHL defencemen – because women’s hockey was still in its infancy, and most girls had to play on boys’ teams during her formative years.
The Boston Bruins were Heaney’s team of choice; Orr and Raymond Bourque her favourite players. But she also saw a lot of Niedermayer, Chelios and Shanahan and says of her Hall Of Fame induction, “That’s why this still seems so surreal to me. I was watching them play and they were my heroes and here I am now standing beside them.”
After her retirement as a player, Heaney coached the University of Waterloo Warriors women’s team between 2005 and 2011 and now coaches her own daughter, Shannon. According to Heaney, it was important that girls had role models of their own to look up to.
“Girls are starting at five and six now, too,” she said. “When I was playing the game, it was like ‘well, she’s wearing boys skates’ or ‘girls don’t play hockey.’ Now, it’s for everybody. Parents are putting their daughters in at such a young age. My daughter is nine. This is her fourth year of playing hockey. I hadn’t even played organized hockey at nine. So that just tells you how far the game has come.”
The state of women’s hockey has grown enormously in the past two decades since the International Olympic Committee approved the sport for inclusion in the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano.
Heaney played in that inaugural Olympics, but Canada lost the gold-medal game to the United States. By then, she was 30 and facing a crossroads. Should she push on and try again for Olympic gold in 2002, or retire and move on with her life? As a female player, there were no financial incentives to continue, but the lure of the Olympics trumped all. She stayed and played on and at different times in the lead-up to Salt Lake City, the task looked daunting.
“Throughout the year, we lost eight straight games to the Americans and we were the underdogs for the very first time,” Heaney recalled. “I struggled through that year. My uncle, who was like a father to me, passed away that year – and on New Year’s Eve, my mom had a stroke and was in intensive care for a couple of weeks. Then right after that, in January, I continued to play with the team but I hurt my knee and I didn’t know if I was going to go. It was like I was trying out again. I only found out three days beforehand that they would take a chance with me and I’d get to go to the Olympics.
“Unfortunately, my mom [Kathleen] couldn’t fly at the time, so my parents couldn’t attend, but the first call I made as soon as I got off the ice was to my parents. With everything that went on that year and ending up with the gold medal, it just made everything so worth it. It was obviously one of the best experiences of my life.
“I guess everything works out in the end.”
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