As a 16-year-old rookie heading to the U18 women’s world championship with Team Canada, Karly Heffernan just hoped to prove to her teammates that they could count on her.
However, Heffernan didn’t anticipate that she would score the game-winning goal in a championship game against the United States.
The former St. Albert Slash forward netted Canada a gold medal with an overtime snipe in Finland on Jan. 5.
“It’s incredible. It’s definitely an honour to be able to be the one to put the puck in the net the last overtime, but it could have been anybody,” Heffernan says. “It’s just amazing that I got the opportunity. It’s still surreal and I get goose bumps thinking about it.”
After the U.S. scored in the first period, Quebec’s Catherine Dubois tied it for Canada with only 13 seconds left in the third period.
As the team prepared for overtime, head coach Jim Fetter told his players to keep calm and play their game.
“We had just scored and we had momentum and he told us that, but he made sure we knew to be calm and focused and not be too excited or ever have any doubts. He just said to keep it simple and play our game and it’ll come,” says Heffernan.
She fired the game winner just 58 seconds into sudden-death overtime, giving Canada a 2-1 victory.
“The defence passed it to me and I dumped it into the corner, and (Hannah Bunton) went and picked it up, skated around the net and did a tight turn. Meanwhile, I was in the slot kind of coming down, and she spotted it in front and I quickly shot it to the far side,” Heffernan says. “And then it was like a huge blur after that.”
As teammates skated over to her in celebration, Heffernan says there was a moment of fear in the victory.
“I saw our biggest player coming towards me at full speed and all of a sudden I was more scared than excited. It was funny,” she said.
In the dressing room Fetter doused the team with fake champagne and Heffernan says there was a lot of dancing and celebrating that continued after the game when the team boarded the bus to the airport.
Canada won all four of their games at the U18 championship including an exhibition match-up with a local bantam team.
“They were pretty fast and it got us in game mode for that calibre of hockey,” Heffernan says. “I thought we played really well and it let us start to grow before the tournament, as a team, and help build chemistry.”
Heffernan racked-up two assists and two goals in Finland and leads her Edge School Mountaineers club team with 25 points over 18 games. She was one of three Alberta players on Team Canada along with Innisfail’s Taryn Baumgardt and Edge schoolmate Eden Murray from Medicine Hat.
Heffernan said she took away some valuable lessons from her first international championship.
“You had to be mentally tough. Being prepared for every game, and after games, knowing to let go of mistakes, just worrying about your game and not what the coaches are thinking or (people in) stands are thinking.”
Heffernan was put on a line with veterans Emily Clark of Saskatchewan and Manitoba’s Ashleigh Brykaliuk, who notched a hat trick in Canada’s 7-2 win over the Swedes in the semifinal.
“I think I showed a lot of consistency in my play,” Heffernan says. “The coaches were happy that I was working really, really hard every practice, and I worked my way up to playing with top players. It was just really nice to see that they trusted me in the final game as much as they did.”
For Heffernan, the most difficult part of the championship was being away from her family at Christmas. Heffernan’s dad made the trip to see his daughter play, but her mom stayed back in Canada and it was quite a homecoming when they were reunited.
“Seeing my mom for the first time in two-and-a-half weeks was really emotional,” Heffernan says. “It was really nice. I called her the night that we won and I couldn’t hear her. I couldn’t understand what she was saying on the phone because she was crying. It was really cute.”
Heffernan said the families who were able to make the trip created a great atmosphere for Team Canada.
“There were a ton of fans for us. The parents were really, really great. They had cowbells, they were crazy in the stands, and all of them had jerseys. It was really good. It was a lot more than I expected.”
Canada’s win in Finland puts them dead even with the U.S. at the U18 championship wins with three apiece.
Heffernan is back in Calgary practicing with the Edge school, which she says has been incredibly supportive. The Mountaineers (11-1-2) are currently leading the Junior Women’s Hockey league North Division.
“We have playoffs and a couple tournaments with Edge,” Heffernan said, “and hopefully I’ll get an invite to the May camp again with U18 Team Canada.”