Jenner heading to Olympics for third time
On Jan. 26, Canadian hockey player Brianne Jenner will hop on a plane to Beijing, China, to compete in her third Winter Olympic Games.
“It never gets old being named to the Olympic team,” said the 30-year-old Oakville native, who lived in St. Catharines from ages 5 to 15 and attended Grey Gables and Ridley College. “Each quad (quadrennial) has a different feel to it and this past one has been the most challenging for our team and for our sport in the greater sense. But there is so much momentum behind women’s hockey right now and I think a lot of people are going to be excited to watch this tournament and we are excited as a team to showcase all the work that we have been putting it these past couple of years, especially when there weren’t a lot of games happening throughout the pandemic.”
Those efforts were anything but glamorous.
“A lot of work that we were doing was in basements and behind the scenes when no one was watching,” the former Cornell scholarship player said.
As a veteran on Team Canada, Jenner feels she is part of something special.
“We have a great leadership group on this team and beyond our leadership group we have leadership from everyone,” she said. “We pride ourselves on everyone feeling comfortable, everyone having a voice, everyone bringing something and everyone being a leader on any given day.”
She has embraced being a leader.
“I have stepped into that role and I try to bring as much as I possibly can but in this locker room there are lots of great leaders and that is the strength of our team.”
Leading up to the Olympics, Jenner has been moved from centre to right wing and she has been playing consistently on a line with Marie Philip-Poulin and Emily Clark. She has also seen time on both the power play and penalty kill.
Moving to the wing has been an adjustment.
“I played centre for most of my time with the national team and it was an exciting challenge to be moved to the wing and have a chance to play with Poulin this whole season,” the 2014 St. Catharines Athlete of the Year said. “It has been real fun developing that chemistry.”
Jenner is continually working on all aspects of her game.
“It is trying to find ways to add to my game,” she said. “I feel I am sort of the same player but I have tried to become a little bit faster, a little bit smarter and just making those two per cent increases.
“I am 31 soon but I feel I am in the best shape of my whole career.”
Given that fact, retirement is not yet in the cards.
“I have thought about it and when the next chapter comes I will be excited for it,” she said. “Just becoming a mom last year has got me really excited for life after hockey but I’m not thinking about it. To be honest, this has been one of the most fun seasons of my whole career which is an odd thing to say during COVID.”
She feels the national women’s team and its culture is special and she wants to continue to be a part of it.
“Maybe it will change, but I want to be a part of it for as long as possible.”
Jenner became a mom in September when her wife, Hayleigh Cudmore, a former Cornell teammate, gave birth to a girl, June.
Becoming a parent has given Jenner a new look on hockey and life.
“It gives you so much perspective,” she said. “It is healthy, whether you have a kid or not, to leave hockey at the rink and have other interests in life. We are more than just hockey players. We are people and June and being a mom has definitely really brought that into focus and she is, by far, the best thing about this year for me.”
Jenner admits it has been difficult to be apart from her family.
“That has been a challenge for a lot of people on the team,” she said. “We have players and staff members with kids and we have all been isolating for a while now. It is a sacrifice but I am really lucky my wife is a high-level hockey player too so she understands and gets it.”
She returned to the training centre in Calgary Jan. 5 and that was the last time she saw her family in Oakville. They have kept in touch through FaceTime.
Jenner has a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Calgary but hockey remains her focus. In non-Olympic years, she has done some coaching, including with Mount Royal University in Calgary, Appleby College and the University of Toronto.
“That is the case for a lot of girls. They are seeking opportunities outside of (playing) hockey to make ends meet.”
Coaching has helped Jenner as a player.
“One of the great benefits of coaching is having those conversations with other hockey minds,” she said. “I have had the opportunity to work with a lot of great coaches and see how they see the game. Those conversations can improve hockey IQ and being on the other side you have a new-found respect for all the work coaches put it and all the non-flashy jobs they have to do.I loved getting my feet wet in coaching and it is something I will likely do in some capacity when I retire.”
She feels it is easier to play than coach.
“Hockey is a game and you get to go out there and have fun with your friends. That’s pretty easy.”
Being a women’s hockey player and making a living as a player isn’t easy but the 23 members on each of the Canadian and American Olympic teams can focus on hockey full time but the next level of extremely talented players aren’t as lucky, Jenner said.
“Professional players outside the national team have full-time jobs and it is unbelievable how they balance it all and are still able to play at a high level.”
The goal of the top female hockey players is to create a league that is sustainable and provides living incomes for players who are not among the top 40 in the world.
Jenner is hopeful that can happen.
“We formed the PWHPA (Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association) after our former league folded and in the short time since the organization was founded by players we have created a lot of really positive momentum for the game,” she said. “There is an appetite for that and hopefully we will see a lot of people watching the Olympic Games and women’s hockey.”
Team Canada will leave for Beijing on January 26 and Jenner has no worries about COVID.
“We are focused on what we can control. We have a great medical team that is making sure we have the best protocols that we can have and we are being responsible,” she said. “In today’s world, you can’t control everything and we have all learned that lesson. We are focused on those things that we can control and our preparations and training so that we can perform.”
Like everyone, she has had enough of the pandemic.
“We are all sick of it, but that is in the back of our minds right now. It is just such an exciting time for us and we are just focused on that and how grateful we are to have this opportunity,” she said. “Of course, it is different circumstances than previous Olympics but we are one of those teams that has become so adaptable and ready for adversity. This is just another day in the office for us and we are so motivated and so excited to get there.”