It was a perfect pass from Brianne Jenner intended for the stick of her longtime teammate, Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin, ending a nearly 10-year gold drought for the women’s national team at the world championships. 2021.
A few months later, at her third Olympic Games, Jenner took home a gold medal and was named tournament MVP after scoring nine goals, tying the Olympic record in the process.
And a few months later, Jenner scored the only two goals needed for Canada to win a second consecutive world title, the first time the Canadian team had accomplished the feat since the early 2000s.
“I think Jenner’s hockey IQ and the way she thinks about the game is incredible,” said Emily Clark, her longtime teammate. “She makes insinuations that I don’t think anyone else in the building sees except her.”
After more than a decade on the senior team, Jenner, 32, has a hockey resume that few can match.
Beyond the gold medals and big goals, those who have played with and against her describe a career built on hard work and quiet leadership, plus a sixth sense on the ice that’s hard to teach.
It’s a type of playing style that’s more method than flash, a game that doesn’t always appeal to spectators at home, according to Liz Knox, a goalie tasked with trying to stop Jenner’s shots for years in the now-shuttered Canadian Hockey League. Women (CWHL).
“She’s just out there trying to do her job and make the players around her better, which I think is a huge compliment when you look at the caliber of athletes she’s had in her circle,” Knox said.
Now, Jenner has a new mountain to climb as one of the leaders with Ottawa of the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL), a league she helped build from the ground up as a board member of the players’ association.
Ottawa general manager Michael Hirshfeld used one of his three pre-draft free agent slots to sign Jenner, along with Clark and goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer, earlier this month.
“We think they have an incredible work ethic and level of competence,” Hirshfeld said after the three signings were announced.
The general manager has said that he would like his team’s identity to be based on brave and dynamic play.
It’s that first word, determination, that comes to mind when Maschmeyer thinks of Jenner.
“She’s trustworthy,” he said. “I feel like she’s always doing the right thing at the right time.”
The love of hockey began on the outdoor rink
Jenner’s journey into hockey began 30 years ago on a soccer field in Oakville, Ontario. Her father was a hockey teacher and coach who flooded the field and turned it into a large outdoor rink. Jenner was already on roller skates when he was two years old.
At three years old he already had a stick in his hand. Jenner loved being on the outdoor rink so much that her mother had to drag her inside to change her diaper.
As he grew older, he developed a love for competition and being part of a team. He loves the structure of being a professional athlete, of doing the right things.
Jenner went on to play at Cornell University, where she was twice named a finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award as the best female college hockey player.
After being cut from the 2010 Olympic team, Jenner made the senior national team at the 2012 world championships. She immediately began absorbing everything she could from veteran players such as Tessa Bonhomme, Gillian Apps, Jayna Hefford and Caroline Ouellette, who was the captain of the first Olympic team Jenner played on in 2014.
“I learned a lot from her,” Jenner said of Ouellette. “It was really evident to see how much she cared about her teammates and how professional she was in her craft and how she carried herself. There are so many that she would just watch and learn from them.”
Named assistant captain of the national team in 2015
A year after her first Olympic Games, Jenner was named assistant captain of the national team, a role she has held ever since.
“I truly believe a book could be written about Brianne and her leadership,” Clark said.
It’s her demeanor and consistency, the ability to know what you’re getting from her in every game and practice, that makes her stand out, according to her Ottawa teammate.
It’s also his care for his teammates. Jenner became a mother two years ago, but Clark said she’s been playing that kind of locker room role for much longer.
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“I think it’s genuine care to make sure everyone is okay, that they feel comfortable, confident, and I think the respect that she gives to each person,” Clark said.
A decade later, Jenner feels like she’s still learning about leadership. She is always trying to learn things from the people around her to try to become a better leader.
“I know there are certain ways I lead naturally and ways I don’t and I have to improve,” he said.
Take a position
Four years ago, Jenner and the Calgary Inferno lifted the Clarkson Cup, awarded to the CWHL champions, for the final time, not knowing they would be the last players to do so. Shortly after, they learned that their league would be shut down.
More than 100 of the world’s best players formed the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA), vowing that they would not play professional hockey until they could earn a sustainable living.
The association was run by a board of players, including Jenner.
“The biggest credit should go to our players who stuck together and continued to trust and believe in us,” Jenner said. “But I always recognized that it was a privilege to be in that position and do the best I could to present what the will of the players would be.”
She ended up serving on the players committee that negotiated a collective bargaining agreement with the PWHL ownership group, securing benefits like a housing stipend, maternity leave and a league minimum salary — things that didn’t exist when Jenner started playing professional hockey.
At the negotiating table, Jenner was a stoic leader for the players, someone who brought a wealth of knowledge about the state of women’s soccer before the CWHL folded, according to Knox, who also represented the players in the negotiations.
“She’s very professional when she has her sights set on a goal, which is a really admirable quality,” Knox said.
‘Along the road’
For Jenner, the best moment with the PWHPA came on a Zoom call one night in late June, when its board was finally able to present the details of the collective bargaining agreement that the players ultimately ratified.
“It’s been a long road,” Jenner said. “I think when we look back at this moment, we’ll think, boy, we accomplished a lot in a short period of time. But for the players who sacrificed, these were long years.”
A few weeks later, Jenner signed his contract with PWHL Ottawa. But for players like her, who spent the first decade of her career in a league that wasn’t paying the bills, the fight was always going to be more about benefiting the next generation.
She’s glad her two-year-old daughter June can see that women can reach the same level as men playing professional hockey, whether she decides she wants to play hockey or not.
But Jenner said it’s just as important for kids to see it, too. His wife is due to give birth to twins any day now.
“That will also make them better people and better citizens.”