Karly Heffernan was speechless when the call came at the end of November that she had made Team Canada for the U18 women’s world championship in Finland.
“I was honestly jumping up and down. It was crazy. My parents didn’t know whether I made it or not. They thought I was crying because I was sad,” said the former St. Albert Slash forward. “They are awesome. They are really proud and they’ve been so supportive through everything,”
“Everything” began when Heffernan started playing hockey at age three. The 16-year-old has spent most of her life in Sherwood Park, but her family lived in St. Albert for a couple of years when she was playing for the Slash midget AAA female team. The Slash won the 2009/10 Mac’s midget AAA tournament in Calgary and the next season finished fifth as the host team at the Esso Cup national championship with Heffernan in the line-up.
Heffernan attends Edge School for Athletes in Calgary and in her first season the Mountaineers won gold at the Canadian Sport School Hockey League championship. She was also named the league’s rookie of the year and was selected to the Junior Women’s Hockey League’s west all-star team.
Heffernan also competed for Team Alberta at the National Women’s U18 Championship in 2012 and 2011. Both years the provincial squad left without a medal.
This season Heffernan is the top scorer for the Mountaineers (13-3-2) with 15 goals and 25 points in 18 games.
Heffernan says her experience playing at the national level will serve her well at worlds in Heinola and Vierumäki. The eight-team tournament starts today for Canada against Hungary. The final is Jan. 5.
“The national championships in Canada have definitely prepared me for hard work and making sure you get proper rest and being on every game because the level of play is so high that anyone can win at any point. You’ve just got to be on your game every game because we learned with Team Alberta both seasons that one game and one goal can make the difference,” said Heffernan, who finished tied for the 2011 Alberta Major Midget Female Hockey League scoring title with 47 points and was the top assist leader with 31 in 32 games.
The road to Finland for Heffernan began in May when she attended the national women’s program strength and conditioning camp in Toronto. She was then invited to the International Ice Hockey Federation high performance camp in Finland, an opportunity she says was an awesome experience.
“I didn’t know much going there, but I found out that it was going to be with a bunch of countries coming together and learning the game,” Heffernan says. “It’s cool that countries around the world really look up to Canada, and it was awesome being a role model there.”
Heffernan got her first taste of international competition in July in a three-game series in Minnesota against the United States. The level of play was even higher than she had expected.
“It was very competitive. I wouldn’t say that any other country is going to be as good as them. I think that they are definitely our target,” Heffernan says.
Canada triumphed over the United States in a win that gave the young talent her favourite hockey memory – scoring the shootout winner to take the series. Both teams had one win apiece heading into the deciding game and in the shootout Ashleigh Brykaliuk and Heffernan scored for Canada to beat the United States 5-4.
At her first international championship, Heffernan plans to keep working hard and is confident her teammates can trust her in all areas of the ice.
“I just want to be as good as I can be. I know that I’m young, but that shouldn’t be an excuse at all. I’ll definitely bring hard work and a great attitude. I’ll work hard in the defensive zone and offensive zone and try to put the puck in the net when I can,” said Heffernan, whose female hockey role model is two-time Olympic gold medallist Meghan Agosta because she’s a two-way player.
For Canada’s national hockey teams the expectations are always high, and the U18 team is no exception. The women took home gold last year and are expected to repeat in Finland.
The privilege and responsibility of playing for Canada is not lost on Heffernan.
“It is unreal,” she said. “When we put on the jersey, we put it on as a team and it was so intense. I couldn’t believe when I saw my name on the back of a Team Canada jersey. It was surreal.”