When Jana Sigurdsson was coming up through the Corner Brook Minor Hockey Association, she was a female hockey player.
She likes the fact that term doesn’t seem to exist anymore.
“You’re a hockey player,” she said. “You’re not a female hockey player, you’re a hockey player, and that’s a big difference.”
Sigurdsson moved up the ranks of the local association, tending goal for all-star teams populated by boys.
She was a natural at the position and wound up playing high school hockey at Hebron Academy in Maine, before attending Providence College and playing NCAA Division I hockey, where she was a part of three Hockey East championship rosters and, in 2011, was one of 13 players — and just two goalies — named to the Providence Hockey East All-Decade Team.
The now-35-year-old cites her time there, as well as her experience playing for Team Canada’s U22 women’s team at the 2004 Air Canada Cup in Germany, as the highlights of her goaltending career.
She lives in the city now, married with two young children, Kristen, 8, and John, 4. Both are registered in the local minor hockey program, with Kristen in novice and John in Timbit. Neither has donned the goalie pads yet, but John has expressed an interest when he’s old enough.
Sigurdsson used to help run goaltending sessions with Jeff Murphy of the Corner Brook Royals, but had to step away last year due to shoulder surgery — a lingering injury from her hockey days. She was unable to find the time to get back at it this year either, but she is a constant on-ice presence at Kristen’s Novice II sessions on Friday evenings, where she gets the chance to work with the young goaltenders there who are just beginning to learn their craft.
She enjoys being able to pass on her knowledge of the sport, stressing to the kids that it’s just a game and that it’s meant to be fun.
And she frequently points out that her first-ever stint in net saw the puck go past her 18 times.
“You’re going to have good games and not-so-good games,” she says. “But stick with it and practice, it’ll get better.”
With regards to female hockey, things have gotten much better than when Sigurdsson was coming up through.
“When I played hockey, a lot of people thought girls shouldn’t play hockey,” she said, noting there were only about three girls in the entire association in her minor hockey days.
“Seeing how hockey has evolved is huge.”
As rare as female players were back then, female goalies were even more so. Sigurdsson says things really began to change when the women’s sport was featured for the first time at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
“That was the first time there was something to strive for,” she said. “You think, I could play on Team Canada, that could be my dream.”
In order for the young netminders she tutors now to realize their dreams, she says, they need to be strong skaters, be able to read plays and possess strong athletic ability.
The goaltending position is much more technical these days, she says, and a strong mental game is crucial.
“The goalie is the backbone of the team.”
Even more important than the on-ice skills she helps provide are the life lessons that come with the game — how to be a good person, how to be a good teammate and having the opportunity to forge lifelong friendships.
That’s another huge reason Sigurdsson is glad to see more hockey players — some who happen to be female — than ever before.
“It’s a wonderful game and the more people that can experience it, the better.”