Welcome to OMNI Hockey, where we bring you exclusive interviews with unique and interesting voices throughout the Canadian Hockey community.
Today, we have the privilege of sitting down with a true legend of the game. She’s not only an Olympic MVP but also the esteemed captain of the Canadian women’s national team. And now, with her recent draft to the PWHL Ottawa team, she’s set to make waves in a new chapter of her distinguished career.
Ladies and gentlemen, please join us as we delve into the journey of the one and only Brianne Jenner.
I’m here today with OMNI Hockey and have the extreme pleasure of speaking with one of the best women’s hockey players in the world, Brianne Jenner. Welcome, Brianne.
Thanks so much, Jon. Excited to be able to talk to you.
You were born in Oakville, grew up playing hockey in St. Catharines, but grew up a Habs fan. Is that right?
Yeah. I grew up in Leafs country, but was a Habs fan growing up. It was because my neighbour growing up was a big Montreal fan. He drove the Zamboni at the rink, I lived on a school campus and he was a Zamboni driver. He would take me up in the Zamboni and remember he got me my first jersey. He was a really special guy, JC. And he, as well as my dad, instilled a love of hockey in me. I still have that passion today.
No kidding. Canadians are very thankful for that passion, for sure. As I mentioned before, you were an Olympic MVP. You’re a captain on Canadian women’s national team. You brought Canadians numerous of proud hockey moments over the years. What does it mean to you to wear the Maple Leaf and compete for your country?
Wearing that jersey comes with a great responsibility. I take that honour very seriously and try to make the country proud as much as possible while wearing it and understand that it’s a privilege to be a role model for young players. As funny as it is to be a role model as a hockey player, I think there’s people doing far more important jobs than I am. But if I can inspire the next generation and the people that supported me in my community, then that’s the goal when I wear that Maple Leaf.
Can you share with us some memorable moments from your hockey career that stand out to you? I know you were an All-Star, an All-Ivy League player at Cornell, the Olympics, World Championships. What are some of the memorable moments to you that have stood out?
I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to play at university, which was an amazing four years. Really special time at Cornell University. Then obviously a long career at the national team. I’m super lucky to have been able to represent our country at the Olympics.
I will say this past Olympic journey in 2022 was extremely special. It’s always memorable when you win, for sure. It was the most fun season of hockey I’ve ever had. It was in large part due to our teammates and the culture that we had on our team. We really cared about each other as people first. We went through a lot of challenges that season, as every community did in the pandemic year. But we went through some ups and downs, some moments where we were fearful of not being able to go to the Olympics because of COVID. Despite that, we had the time of our lives together. It was really because of the way we treated each other, players, coaches, and the environment that we created.
I’ve been lucky to have so many great championships and moments like that. But that year really stands out because it was the best team I’ve been a part of.
You were centralized, Brianne, with the Canadian Women’s National Team in advance of the 2010 Olympics. And like you just mentioned, one of your most memorable years was actually last year. You spent a lot of time in women’s hockey at the highest level. I’ve seen a numerous amount of changes over the years. What have you seen across your time in the game that’s led us to where we are now with this PWHL?
Yeah, our game has just continued to grow in amazing strides. I mean, to see, I think the level of professional hockey and to see the interest and the support, we’re at such an exciting time for women’s hockey. I’m thrilled for the city of Ottawa to be a part of that. I think we’re also going to see, and we started to see this a lot in the last decade, it’s just the emergence of European stars in our game as well. I think that’s just going to continue to grow. You see what the NHL was able to do for hockey players globally. The stars like Draisaitl in the league. I think we’re going to see that in women’s hockey as well.
But I think the biggest impact is going to be in our communities. For young girls to have the same dream that young boys have always had, right? They have the NHL to look towards. They have those teams to cheer for. It’s going to be amazing for our young females in our country to have that as well. I think it’s going to be so excellent for young boys as well to see that. And to see that equality and what they can aspire to.
How does it feel to continue your hockey career with this new league and with professional hockey now being all the best players in one place?
It’s hard to describe how excited I am. We got training camp, it’s still a month away and I’m just itching to get there. I’m excited to be in the city of Ottawa, I love that city. I’m excited to become a community member there. But I’m also just excited for a hockey season. It’s been a long time to have this opportunity where I get to be with the team for the entire year and build towards playoffs and just do all the things that you get to do within a hockey season. So, I’m thrilled. I think it’s going to be phenomenal hockey. And I’m just excited to contribute as much as I can to this Ottawa club and see if we can push for a championship.
That’s what Ottawa fans like to hear for sure. You mentioned that training camp does start in a month. Do you have any plans at all to engage with the local community? Are there any initiatives yet with the PWHL at all or just you personally?
Yeah, I definitely want to become involved with the community as much as possible. I know our PWHL club will definitely have some interactions and activations and different community events that we’re going to be doing. I know in previous visits to Ottawa, I’ve been able to be at CHEO, able to do some things with Do It For Daron. I’m really excited to reconnect with those organizations and see where our team can help raise awareness or do some visits or whatever we can do to help our strength in our community.
That’s great to hear. Why is giving back so important to you?
Well, I think it’s a privilege being a role model in your community. I understand that I wouldn’t be in this position if it weren’t for those that have supported me. I think it’s important in our identity with PWHL Ottawa and also it just aligns with my identity as well to give back to the community. We want to be a team that Ottawa is proud of, in the way we play and the way we interact and the way we give back to our community. Being a contributing part of the community is a big piece of that. And we’re looking forward to that aspect as well, not just the puck drop, although we’re pretty excited for that as well.
Now, forgive me, I am someone who was born and raised in Ottawa. There is probably some bias you might have heard a little earlier, but it is an amazing city, especially to raise the family. I know that a couple of years ago, your family welcomed your daughter into the world. But I got to ask, how are you keeping up and excelling at everything and going overseas and winning gold medals? And how are you able to do it all?
Well, I guess the short answer would be my wife. She holds it all together. But a great support network of family. And that’s a big piece of that that allows me to continue to pursue this. I think becoming a mother is actually been a really positive thing in my career. I think it’s as it does for many parents, it’s given me a lot of perspective. It’s just made me, I think, a more complete person and teammate. I cherish it and I’m so lucky to be able to do what I do and to be a mom. I just I’m so grateful and very, very lucky to be in the position that I am. But certainly, wouldn’t be able to do it all, especially the road trips, if it wasn’t for the support of our family.
You mentioned being a role model, not only for your daughter now, but also for young female athletes. What advice do you give girls who aspire to pursue a career in hockey or other sports in general?
Well, when I was a young girl growing up, I would have never dreamt that I would have this opportunity that’s in front of me now. When I think about young girls looking to the future, just because something may not exist yet doesn’t mean that it can’t be your dream. We’re breaking down barriers just so continuously right now in women’s sports, but also just in all industries. I think just understanding that just because you don’t see it yet doesn’t mean that it’s not possible. Anything is possible for our young women in the future.
There are now so many more avenues and so much more opportunities in sports in general for everyone, it’s really so good to hear. But on the flip side of that, recently, the NHL told players that they can’t alter their uniforms for theme celebrations this season, most notably the use of pride tape on their sticks during warm up. Of course, this is something that sparked a lot of conversation in the hockey world. What are your thoughts about this development from the NHL?
Yeah, thanks for that question. My first reaction is definitely disappointment. I wouldn’t be the only one in the hockey community to be disappointed with this action. You look at the opportunity that sport gives to bring communities together and to make people feel connected. That’s the magic of sport, right? That’s why we love it so much. It’s that community that we gain from it. Those teammates that we have, those special coaches. The connections that we’re able to make.
I think the NHL has an enormous platform to be able to expand those connections and make more people feel welcome in the game. I certainly hope that they’ll reconsider this because I think it goes beyond just Pride nights. I think it’s any type of community engagement is being limited by that policy. I certainly am disappointed by it.
I hope that there’s a reconsideration or a way found to ensure that hockey can be a force for positive inclusivity within our communities. That’s certainly what I believe as a hockey player. What I certainly hope our team in Ottawa will believe as well. Not to say that all NHLers support this. I know there’s probably a lot of players that feel the same way, too, and want to see progress in our game and more people involved.
Hockey has given me so many wonderful life lessons, so many great relationships, so many great opportunities. I want to see more people be able to have the great experience with hockey that I have had. I think the more that we can make hockey for all, the better off we are as a community.
The PWHL has been such a positive sign in light of growth and inclusion and everything you’d like to see in hockey and sports in general. Are there any other positive changes that you’d like to see in hockey over the years and decades to come?
Well, I think we have a long way to go as a sport. I think a lot of that came to light over the last few years. And like you said, I’m extremely proud of what I was a part of in the PWHPA and that player group and the different social initiatives that we stood for. But I certainly understand that within sport, while there’s so much positive that can come out, there’s also a lot of people who aren’t feeling that, not feeling welcome, not feeling safe, not feeling like they fully belong. That needs to be something that we continue to put at the forefront of our focus as a hockey community, because our game is only special when everyone feels safe and welcome. It’s not a game for a few. It’s like we said, a game for all. I think we need to continue to look at ways to break down barriers because whether we like to admit it or not, there are a lot of barriers to hockey and we need to make sure that we eliminate as many of those as possible.
Brianne, thank you so much for being with us today. One of the best female hockey players in the world, an Olympic MVP, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and ultimately a pillar in driving change in the women’s game. Brianne, thank you very much for your time.
Editor’s note – This interview occurred prior to the NHL’s reversal of their decision to ban on-ice displays. Below is Brianne’s updated statement:
“I’m encouraged by the NHL rescinding their ban on pride tape and other player initiatives to support important causes. Hockey gives us a great platform to uplift communities and I’m happy to see that players in the NHL will have a less constrained platform to be advocates and role models this season.”