Geraldine Heaney won seven straight World Championships and Olympic gold with Team Canada. The Hockey Hall of Famer talks about the influence of her parents and her role in building the first version of a professional organization in women’s hockey, the Toronto Aeros. She also reminisces about big games and playing her final pro hockey game pregnant.
A full transcript of the episode can be found down below.
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Music/Man’s Voice: Welcome to Sami Jo’s Podcast. The show that is all about gaining insights from top performers as they share what made their teams successful and translate those ideas into your everyday lives and businesses.
Here is your host, 3 time Olympian, professional speaker, author and entrepreneur …Sami Jo Small.
Sami Jo: Welcome to episode #10 of Sami Jo’s podcast where I interview Olympic gold medallist and Hockey Hall of Famer Geraldine Heaney.
Originally, from Northern Ireland, Geraldine moved to Canada at a very early age and fell in love with the game of hockey. One of women hockey’s first superstars, she was a rushing defenceman who could always create something on ice. Always a threat. She was the backbone of the accomplished Toronto Aeros organization for the more that two decades, winning several league and national championships. and the international stage, she rarely lost. She was a part of 7 straight world championship gold medals even though the World Championships for women were only played every other year. A silver from the first women’s Olympic hockey tournament, she went on to finish her international career with a gold medal in Salt Lake City in 2002.
for her incredible skills on the ice , In 2008 she was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame and then in 2013 was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
I hope you enjoy my interview with Geraldine Heaney.
Sami Jo: Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge the traditional indigenous owners of country throughout Canada and pay my respect to them, their culture and their elders past, present and future.
Sami Jo: So, Geraldine, to me, you were the backbone of hockey Canada’s program for over a decade, you helped create a winning environment with the Toronto Aeros for more than 25 years. And there’s really nobody more accomplished in the women’s game. So thank you so much for coming on my podcast.
Geraldine: Well, thanks for having me, Sami, it’s great to see you again. It’s been a while.
Sami Jo: It has been a long time. But I feel like every time I chat with you, we get caught right back up. So it’s, it’s really fun. I appreciate this. But let’s start first with, I guess your very first team, so your family, your parents, Mike and Kathleen, were at nearly every single game. How did their support and the support of your siblings help you on your hockey journey from a young age?
Geraldine: Well, it’s kind of funny because obviously, I was born in Ireland and when we immigrated to Canada, my parents knew nothing about the game of hockey.
Sami Jo: How old were you? When you immigrated?
Geraldine: I was only nine months.
Sami Jo: Okay.
Geraldine: So what happened was my Dad came first so he could get a job and get settled and then my Mom came six months later, with three young kids. It was myself, my sister, Catherine, I was nine months. She was like, I think, two and a half. And then my brother Damon, who was four. So my Mom’s never been on an airplane before.
Sami Jo: Wow. Yeah. What bravery.
Geraldine: Then she arrived in Canada and my Dad got settled with my Dad, my uncle and when she went there, the first thing my Dad said to her is like, listen, we got to watch Hockey Night, Canada, Saturday night, this is what we do here and my Mom’s like, oh, okay, so she sits down, and she starts watching the games and she’s like, this is what they do over here. She had no idea never seen the game before, very confused and was like, What have I done? So anyway, years went along and my brother started getting involved in playing road hockey, and I jumped in all the time. Obviously, I was put in net, you would understand that Sami, being a goalie yourself.
Sami Jo: Yes most young siblings got put in net.
Geraldine: Yeah. Yeah. So I loved that. So we played that, you know, there. And you know, Mike, if it wasn’t for my Dad, and my Mom being very supportive, because I wanted to start playing. And at that time, there wasn’t a lot of girls playing. He had to look in the newspapers to see if there was any girls teams around because at that time, the girls weren’t allowed to play with the boys. So I was like, kept bugging them. Hey, have you found anything? Have you found anything? And one day he did, he found a little advertisement in the newspaper looking for girls that wanted to play hockey in our area. And we went and watched the practice. And my Dad, I remember turning to me says, Well, do you think you could play? and I looked at him? I said, Of course I could. Right.
Sami Jo: So how old? Were the girls on the ice? Like, was it a big age group together?
Geraldine: Yeah. So they were probably anywhere from I was around 10. And they probably ranged up to about 14.
Sami Jo: Okay, at that time, so I was like, for sure. So he contacted coach went out and played a couple of years, it was called Northwest and BNM. So it was just a small team in the Weston road area where I grew up, then that’s where I started. And then Big Guy, he contacted me three years later with the Aeros and asked me if I would come join the Aeros. So you kind of know, what’s kind of the big thing I found that the Aeros was the first real organization that really took the women’s game to that next level where they weren’t recruited player. So I live, you know, about 40 minutes away, and I was like, 13. And he came in and asked, would you play and, of course, my parents loved the idea that, you know, you already heard about that organization and the, you know, for me to be able to go there and play
Sami Jo: Were your parents athletic themselves. Like they seem like they were very driven. But what was sort of their athletic background?
Geraldine: Well, my Dad played well soccer in Ireland, and he also played Gaelic football. So that’s an Irish sport.
Sami Jo: You ended up playing as well. There was a team in the Toronto area actually went and toured Ireland and did the whole thing with Gaelic football as well. So that was a lot of fun as well. And, and my Mom played the game, it’s called camogie, which is the female version of hurling.
Sami Jo: Oh, interesting. And so how is it different?
Geraldine: It’s the same, they just, I think, call it camogie for the women and hurling for men.
Sami Jo: Is it less violent than hurling would be my biggest, probably less violent, like a ringette to a hockey sort of similarity?
Geraldine: I could see them and I mean, obviously, I never, I only really heard about it. Maybe about 20 years ago, but heard that like she even played, like this camogie and I was like, Oh, really, because again, I didn’t really know and other anything like that. She didn’t really talk about it. So I saw and then, you know, it’s like, yes, again, a little bit from both of them. And, you know, but if you know yourself and I was even before, you know, a lot of girls were recognized for playing sports or doing anything really physical.
Sami Jo: And, and I was I was just always so impressed that your parents were so supportive, because I think I would say that, you know, there’s a little bit of age gap between us, maybe what eight to 10 years, something like that.
Geraldine: Sure we’ll say that.
Sami Jo: It was pretty rare for even parents of my generation to support their daughters in game like hockey. So for your parents to be so supportive, what do you think made them really love the game and love for you to excel in it?
Geraldine: That’s a good question. You know, I think they were they really fell in love with the game of hockey and I think it was the people they met, you know, the other parents probably with you know, and I know now coaching my kids and you get a good parent group and I think the Aeros always had a really good parent group and with obviously with Colin Mackenzie and then Ken Dufton coming around and yeah, you’re right like thing never missed a hockey game. And you know, they did, they probably fell in love with the game probably as much or more than I did. And like you said, that’s I would never have gotten to where, you know, accomplish what I did without their support. And, you know, I really didn’t get my license close about 26. So they were driving me a lot to the gig. So maybe they were forced to go. But I know a lot of that even when I retired from the Aeros, they used to go and I wasn’t even playing.
Sami Jo: Oh, yeah, they kept coming. I mean, they were our biggest fans still, which was always fun to see them.
Geraldine: I think they really liked the women’s game too. You know, we look at the men’s game too. And I always found that, you know, when I play that we were kind of like the original six way back when, you know, we started off with contact, and then they took the body checking out. And, you know, it’s I think they just love the women’s game and probably one of the first, you know, group of people to really promote it and say how good it was.
Sami Jo: Yeah, so that was always impressive. The support side, you mentioned that you join the Toronto Aeros’ senior team at the age of 13. Right?
Geraldine: Well, there was a bantam team first.
Sami Jo: Okay. And so then when did you join the senior team?
Geraldine: It was like two years later. Yeah, so the senior team was, because I don’t think you know, those were trying to remember that was like really a midget team at the time. So it was kind of bantam and then kind of jumped to the senior team, because really wasn’t a midget team.
Sami Jo: Then what was the what was the hockey landscape like back then? I mean, it was pretty impressive. The Aeros had this organization. But what were the other teams? Did you guys have a league of a Women’s League? What was it like?
Geraldine: Yeah, Women’s League, just more or less, kind of like what it is today? Maybe not quite as many teams like there was a team like from Scarborough, Newtonbrook. You know, there were teams all around there as well. Etobicoke. But yes, so I mean, it was it was pretty, you know, there was a there was other teams to play. Obviously, like I said, they were they were one of the first organizations to take the women’s game, I think to that next level, they did have a house league. And what they did when I first went there is to keep the house league surviving. Because we started the rep program. They made the kid the girls play both you had to play both, so you had to play the house league and then you had to play the rep as well, just so the house wouldn’t fold.
Sami Jo: Okay. And that was in-house Toronto Aeros.
Geraldine: Yeah, so that didn’t have like a Toronto Aeros little house like, and then we were probably the highest team. Bantam was probably the oldest team they had, they didn’t have every age group. Like, like they will they still don’t actually. So yeah. And then, you know, then eventually, there was a senior team and then we got a midget team. And then obviously was.
Sami Jo: Was Big Guy there right from the beginning? And when did Ken join the organization, Ken Dufton?
Geraldine: Yeah, Big Guy was he was one that talked me into going to play with the Aeros and his daughter was the same age as me. So she played on the team as well. So she was actually my defense partner for the first couple of years. And then she kind of, you know, went to school and hockey just wasn’t her thing. You know, she loved it, but didn’t want to take it to that serious where you know where the game was going. And she quit playing hockey and Big Guy he stuck around. He wasn’t, he loved it. And we were all his daughters then. Yeah. Yeah. So you know, and his wife, Annmarie kind of had a little bit of a hard time with it at the beginning and couldn’t understand why he wanted to keep putting so much time into something that his daughter wasn’t even playing anymore.
Sami Jo: So yeah, especially I’m sure when she passed away, that would have been really tough on their family, but Big Guy, I feel like he gravitated even more to women’s hockey at that point because you guys were his daughters.
Geraldine: Yeah, definitely. I mean, he like I said, he was like a second Dad to me because I have known him forever. And he always said I was like one of his daughters and like I said there was a bunch of us that he looked towards us like, you know, as his daughters and not that ever take Colleen’s place but I think he loved watching us play and, and grow up and, and succeed and hockey, but also just watching us grow up into adults and having our own kids and families and I think he was just so proud of all of us for you know, for doing that. And seeing us like I can see him always thinking, you know, what where would or what would Colleen be doing now and he probably looks kind of through us or maybe she would have been doing mad or this. I think it’s and you know what Annmarie I think kind of started feeling that way too. Geraldine: You know, I still see him really contact me all the time and keep in touch and she, you know, she always calls me actually Colleen died on my 21st birthday. So she never forgets that she calls me and my Mom my birthday every year. And, and again, like I mentioned earlier, like, I think that’s why my parents were stayed so involved tunes because of the people they knew the people they met through hockey are our friends for life. And you know what, and I know that and, you know, talking to you today, it’s, you know, kind of the same thing, like I said, like, just played like, last year.
Sami Jo: We did play last year didn’t we? So when did Ken Dufton come into the organization? Or was he there right from the get go too
Geraldine: No he came in, I think maybe two years after I was there. So I remember him bringing he brought him in part time. And you know, he’d come on the ice and there’s this guy Ken Dufton always thought he was coaching Don Mills Flyers, AAA boys at the time, and he was doing both. So he came over and he come run some of our practices, and then he can come a little bit more often.
Sami Jo: And so what did you think initially, when Ken came on the on the ice, I’m curious.
Geraldine: Um, I liked them right away, right? Because that’s, that’s what I kind of liked growing up when I was playing, like with my brothers and stuff. So I was just used to all the guys being around anyhow. And all our coaching staff was male too, it was just he probably was a little bit more serious and more intense. And, you know, as we got to know him a little bit more and more, we probably saw a little bit more of that. But I liked I loved that. I mean, obviously I stuck around, he was my only coach really, for about 25 years or so. So yeah, and I think so. I mean, remember Big Guy kind of just saying he was only gonna be part time. And then I think like I said, the more he came, he loved it and loved it. He just decided, you know what, I’m going to leave the boys hockey and join the women’s game. And you know, he’s still there today.
Sami Jo: And you really never look back. I’m curious what you why you think that under those two guys, the Aeros organization was so successful for so many years, like, What? What did they do to create that in the players? And how did they really instill that, those values in you guys?
Geraldine: Well, they took us serious, I think, and I think they knew that we were playing the game, obviously, because we love the game, but that we’re actually pretty good at as well. And they went out and got sponsors. They went out and got money. And Big Guy used to always say if you look good, you’re good. And we used to get everything they really did spoil us from you know, from maybe there’s a couple of first years I was playing around, we would go out you know, you get tracksuit, your jackets, you get everything matches, when Cooper-Alls came in, we were the first to get the Cooper-Alls.
Sami Jo: Oh ya I remember Cooper-alls of course.
Geraldine: So yeah, so it was like they kind of really spoiled us and, and they really worked hard and Big Guy was the backbone of it all, I think because he went out and got sponsors, and he was very good at getting it. And that’s and he’s trying to sell something that was obviously not a lot of people knew that and didn’t realize that what girls or women were playing at the time, and what were they going to give a sponsorship money. But he promoted it, he could sell anything. So he sold I think the women’s game to a lot of these sponsors, and they jumped on board. And you know, so I think everybody else saw what we were getting. And so everybody wanted to come and play for the Aeros. And we were very, we were very successful as well. So and then obviously Kenny, and with Big Guy’s help, they went out and recruited. They want to go and look for the best girls, they want to put a great team together. And I know other organizations didn’t like that at the time, because they felt that we were there just stealing players from ever all the good players from everywhere. But that had the force the other organizations to do the same thing that the Aeros were doing, like take these women serious, give them a good program and they’ll stay.
Sami Jo: I can remember when I first joined the Aeros having Ken as a coach and it’d been revolutionary for me to have somebody that was so meticulous and detailed and knew each player and was developing each player that was so different in the women’s game. I had never seen that before. So the expectations was so much higher. I think other teams that I played on, you know, were maybe a closer unit where maybe more of a fun environment. We’re here to just kind of play hockey, but that was really the environment was about excellence and joining the Aeros. That was really the first feeling that I had of that. And that I wanted to do well on the ice because everybody else expected that it was this whole other level of performance that I had never seen before.
Geraldine: Yeah, we definitely pushed each other I think we have to because all the girls on the team at the time were you know, we were good hockey players but we were all good athletes. And I think that’s what’s missing today is that the kids focus on hockey only and they forget about these other sports that your best hockey players are your best all around athletes. I still believe that and that’s what we all were like we all play like I played soccer was my summer sport, I played every sport in high school from that badminton to field hockey or basketball to volleyball. And I love playing everything, tennis, whatever. And I’ve really believed that that playing all those sports really helped me excel in hockey.
Sami Jo: Yeah. I definitely think that’s key. And, you know, for my entire life, I spouted the values of playing all these different sports and then all of a sudden you move to the GTA and you have kids, and you realize how hard it is to drive everywhere, like, in this area is different if you’re in a smaller town, and you can kind of do everything. But you know, parents get home at five, and then they can maybe get to a rink by six, and then you’re home by eight. And can you really do another activity. So I sort of changed my tune a little bit to say that kids have to have balance in their life. And that might be sport that might be simply going to the park that might be you know, I don’t playing piano or something else.
Geraldine: But the issue with that is everyone’s on the ice six or seven times a week. And that’s the problem.
Sami Jo: Right. And even just signing up my four year old daughter, five year old daughter for hockey, and it was like, every Saturday every Sunday for an hour and a half. And there was like it was just so intense so quickly. And so she’s gravitated to gymnastics and ballet right now and tennis and she loves that. But yeah, hockey becomes so intense, so quick. And I don’t know, you know, it’s a systemic change. You’ve probably seen that with your kids. It just is so much for them.
Geraldine: It is and that’s what. I mean, like so like when you said it’s, you know, it’s not a time thing. I don’t think it’s too much hockey. Yeah other things. So if they could just, I believe that they make really only allowed on four times a week,
Sami Jo: That would be great.
Geraldine: And you know what, and the kids need the break but now they compete amongst themselves. So I especially because I’m coaching my son’s team now and it’s like AAA and it’s crazy and it’s like everybody’s trying to do that bit more than everybody else. It’s a team game. But everybody’s a bunch of individuals, because again, everybody’s gonna go to the NHL right?
Sami Jo: Well you’re looking for that next team when you’re looking to satisfy the scouts and the coach. And yeah, it’s certainly has gotten away from teams. You know, what the back to the Aeros, I think that that’s what I loved about the Aeros organization was, it was certainly about the individual. I mean, for sure, a lot of us came there, thinking it was a path to the National Tteam to get some of the best coaching. But despite all of that there was always this overarching theme of team that you know, Ken, whether he rolled the lines, or he was giving some of the rookies, the same chances, Mallory Deluce being on the powerplay beside Geraldine Heaney to me just kind of at the time boggled my mind, and then people like that but then eventually make the National Team. And it was you really, I mean, for me, I think it taught me a lot about team because I had to step back and realize, why are we playing the sport for a lot of different reasons. But part of it is to learn how to be a good teammate and to support everybody else. And I think that despite all of the intensity that happened with the Aeros, Ken and Big Guy did a really good job of instilling that team values in us would you say that?
Geraldine: I would definitely agree with that and I think I kind of coach the same way now as well, because like you said, everybody played. It was like, who was up was on the powerplay at the end of the day and it was a meaning meaningful game.
Sami Jo: Even in a meaningful game. It wasn’t until like the last five minutes like it was.
Geraldine: Oh, yeah, yeah. But because we were that good though, right? Like we did have we had a lot of depth and that’s the reason and because Kenny develop everybody not just his top players, and I coach like that now to like, I’m coaching AAA boys now and it’s like, I run my lines, like I equal even my lines out I don’t put all my best players on one line. Like, you know, there’s a combination everybody plays the powerplay everybody penalty kills
Sami Jo: As it should be. They should all learn these different systems
Geraldine: And I preach that to the boys all the time. Like well guys is a team game like we all contribute. You all have to contribute somehow. And I said and it’s more fun when you win with everybody but then the parents come into the play and it’s like why don’t you have a powerplay. Okay, we’re in first, we’re winning. Is that okay? Like we’re doing okay. It’s still not good enough. My own it’s like, right. You’re you can’t win coaching. But I mean, that’s, that’s a different story.
Sami Jo: I think what you can do is you can win by instilling these values in that generation of kids, you know, maybe their parents, you know, these kids are going to learn and so that’s important.
Geraldine: Well, those kids learn until they go home.
Sami Jo: Right, but for at least a couple hours, you’ve got them
Geraldine: They learn differently from their parents. And it’s, it’s, you’ll figure it out with your kids if she plays, but it’s tough. I’m telling you, it’s like you think and the boys really get it? Well, I had a really good group of boys and they were getting it and they loved it. They all got along but then it was not so points who’s getting more points and it was really equaled out in our roster just like the Aeros and like you said like that. I truly believe that I coach like Kenny, in that sense that I do want to develop everybody, not just one or two players. And you know, I always tell everybody, I don’t have great hockey players. I have a great hockey team. That’s why we’re winning.
Sami Jo: That’s a great way of looking at it. And maybe that’s why Ken and Big Guy I loved women’s hockey so much. They didn’t have to deal with the parents.
Geraldine: Yeah, definitely. Oh, for sure.
Sami Jo: No, but I mean, I think that it was always parents were there for the right reasons. I feel like back in the day, it wasn’t like there was this overarching they’re going to play in the NHL or they should be on this. Parents didn’t really have opinions in hockey, because we they were just supporting us because we loved it, really.
Geraldine: And I grew as the game was growing. So we were learning, right? We were just happy to play to be honest.
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Sami Jo: My final question about the Aeros or comment maybe is maybe my favorite moment with you with the Toronto Aeros was your final game scoring in overtime, while pregnant playing forward on our third line!
Geraldine: We were the first line, we didn’t have lines remember
Sami Jo: Right? We didn’t have lines? Well, what would have been maybe perceived as a third line? And, yeah, there we are in overtime in the National Championship final. And you dipsy-doodle around what seemed like the entire team to put the puck in the net, telling nobody that you’re pregnant, hiding beers after the game with water but tell me about that season. And what made you want to keep playing after your Olympics and what was it like to win that particular year?
Geraldine: So after the Olympic I mean playing D I find and it’s even worse for you as a goalie that you play a little bit safer. You don’t take as many high risk chances. I mean, I did. But you know, sometimes I would maybe have done something different if I was forward. And you know what I came back after the Olympics winning gold in Salt Lake. And I said toKenny I want to play forward I just wanna have fun. I just want to be able to do what these forwards do,hang you out to dry half the time.
Sami Jo: And you were really relied on for with the Aeros for a lot of the game. I mean, you played a ton of minutes. And you were not only a defensive defenseman, but an offensive defense, you’d be the one on the rush. And then the first one back, protect me in the net, I remember that.
Geraldine: Ya a little bit of both there. I just said Ken I want to play forward. And he had no problem with it. So I did. And I had a blast. I just you know, I think because I retired from the National Team, I’didn’t have that pressure where I had to be the I mean, I’ve always wanted to be the best but I’m not trying to prove the Team Canada I belong still.
Sami Jo: Right, and they’re looking for a certain type of defenseman and you got to fit into that mold, in a certain ways this you didn’t have to please the scouts right?
Geraldine: I played for the Aeros I played for myself and my teammates and I didn’t have to worry about competing against another player on my team for the National spot. And that’s what was, you know, that happens, right? And so I just went out and I just had fun. I had a blast. And then we went to the Nationals. And you know, I found out like I was pregnant about two and a half months before going and I was like oh no, what do I do? Right? And I was feeling like crap.
Sami Jo: Of course, as you would in the first trimester.
Geraldine: Yeah, yes, I was I sick I threw up that morning. And I was like, how am I going to get through this game? Nevermind, whatever. Right? And it was happening for the last month or so. And I was just like, exhausted. And so I just kept pushing through pushing through and didn’t really want to let anybody know, just because, you know, we usually wait till after the three months or whatever. And so our trainer knew and that was it.
Sami Jo: Was that Claire at the time?
Geraldine: Yeah. And I remember Benny coming into my room and she knew something was up like you want to have a beer and all we can drink during the tournament, we have to be ready for the finals. And you know me, right? I would have been all over that. And so I remember the game and we’re playing and you know, we’re having a pretty good game. And it was an exciting game and went into overtime. I’m like, Oh, my God, it’s overtime now. And it’s getting late, and I’m just whatever. And I’m like
Sami Jo: You must have been exhausted.
Geraldine: Oh, yeah, I was I was like, so we go down and I saw the puck when I was like, thank God. And then everybody’s coming and I was just like, and I’m like, Wow, what a way to end exciting the only one that really knew that this was going to be my last National Championship. And so just that feeling was unbelievable. And then in the dressing room. I have you know, Claire, she filling up the Coors Light can with water and drinking it and then afterwards, you know, going back to the hotel it was I was like, how am I going to do this because they’re all gonna know? So I was trying to fake it drinking Caesars, virgin Caesars got to bed about I thought it was late. It was two in the morning. But of course though some of the players on the team were jumping on the bed, what are you doing sleeping? Right? So I had a pretty good I said, I’m tired, you’re are not tired.
Sami Jo: You are never tired before that.
Geraldine: No, I would have stayed up all night. But I think they once they found out they knew like came out and said we had a feeling something was off. But I mean, just end off my career with a National Championship with the Aeros and you know, just doing it with Big Guy and Kennyand you know, with a lot of you know, you guys and I just knew that was that was going to be it. And, you know, it was it was unbelievable. It was almost like winning a world championship close to an Olympics because I mean, with your club team, you play with them all year long. And, and I played with a lot of these girls for years. And none of them you know, this is their, this is their Olympics, this is their world championships. So it was nice to do it with them. And, you know, to end off my career with a National Championship.
Sami Jo: I often get asked about some of my biggest games or my favorite games to play in. And I always revert back to the club team hockey, because you’re right, those are the girls who play with all season. Those are the ones you really know. And you’re with the National Team for two weeks. And yes, it’s amazing. And you have these incredible moments. But it’s not the same as winning with the girls that you’re on. Well, I was gonna say bus, but we took the VIA trains back in the day.
Geraldine: That’s right.
Sami Jo: Put all the luggage in the back of the school bus and like get it out and lug it. And I just feel like those are the moments that really create team. And so those are probably some of my most special Moments too. But let’s go back to your first World Championships in 1990. Did you? You didn’t play an ‘87 did you? Yes, I did. Oh, you did play in ‘87 did you play on the Ontario team or the Canadian team?
Geraldine: The Ontario team.
Sami Jo: And so tell the listeners a little bit about how that happened. And who was the Canadian team and who was the Ontario team? At the very first Worlds.
Geraldine: Yeah, so Fran Ryder was really pushing for a World Championships. So she finally got the okay and it was going to happen in Ontario. So what was going to happen was it was kind of like the Nationals whoever won the National Championship. They were representing Canada. So because it was in Ontario and in Canada, they had a host team. So they had a host team with Team Ontario. So I played, so it was Mississauga who came second, Hamilton came first. So Hamilton was representing Canada, and Mississauga was representing Ontario. Now, Hamilton or Team Canada, they were allowed to pick up three players. Ontario was allowed to pick up as well. So Ontario, picked myself up. So then I went played for the Mississauga team, which was team Ontario.
Sami Jo: And so the rest of the teams were international teams?
Sami Jo: And how did that tournament end up? What was the, who won? Who was second?
Geraldine: It was Ontario and Canada and the finals. So we beat the US in the semis.
Sami Jo: Oh, wow. And so then the final was the same as National Championship final, essentially.
Geraldine: Yes with added players on both teams. So when Hamilton was representing Canada, they got to pickup like Dawn Mcguire from out west. They got the pickup from and I think France St-Louis might have played in there. They got the pickup, like from all of Canada.
Sami Jo: Right, ok.
Geraldine: Okay, Ontario, they only can pick up within Ontario.
Sami Jo: Gotcha. Okay, so fast forward to the 1990 World Championships, the first official World Championships. Was that tournament, everything you expected it to be? Or did you even have expectations? And what was it really like?
Geraldine: I guess, obviously, didn’t really have too many expectations. Because there was nothing to look like to go back on and look at and say, well, the world Women’s World Championship, I was just happy that we’re having one. It was like, wow, this is gonna be a world championship in this. So, but it was a bit of a journey for myself because I wasn’t a Canadian citizen. I was only a landed immigrant at the time and I remember that we had to go to regional tryouts and you had to pay for the tryouts at the time. Okay, so we went to our Regional tryouts to get through that and you go to the next one. Then they had that and we went to about probably about four different trials before you got to the final camp with all the provinces. So then you’re having the last tryout, which was, I would say about 40 players I think they took and at the time, I remember when we had to fill out our forms of it said landed immigrant or Canadian. So I put landed immigrant but I don’t think anybody looked at I think they just assumed I was Canadian
Sami Jo: Right because there you were at the tryouts.
Geraldine: Yeah. Yeah. So we had the final camp. It was in Barrie, I won’t forget this. And they were picking the team and what they did was they brought they would call you. I don’t know about six or seven in the morning. Go and see the coach and you were told the whether you made the team or you didn’t make the team. So my roommate, Brenda Richard, she was defenseman all the time. And she was with the Aeros as well, she when she came back, she made the team. So when I went and I went in and I was, Dave McMaster at the time, so he was the head coach. And he’s telling me how great of a camp I had he goes, but we just can’t name it to the team right now. And I was just kind of going, Oh, I didn’t really ask any questions. I think it was half asleep. I’m like, so as far as I was concerned, I didn’t make the team, you know, we just can’t name you to the team.
Sami Jo: So it didn’t process, the result?
Geraldine: No, he should have told that me, he didn’t tell me at the time. I left went back to my room. And I remember and Ang went and she didn’t make the team but she was told she didn’t make the team. Heather Ginzel didn’t make the team. As all these top there was a bunch of top players It was like was going on. Right? So we, then we eventually what they did, they only picked 14 players. So for whatever reason, they decided they only want to pick 14 at that time, was to leave a bit of time to maybe look at other players. Was it to teach the top players a lesson than that maybe you need to be in better shape than you are…
Sami Jo: Or maybe to get somebody to get their citizenship.
Geraldine: Yes, which I didn’t know. So then they called me in later and said, listen, you need to get your citizenship. I says yeah, but I said, Okay, I agree. But we didn’t have a lot of time. I think we had six weeks. And how am I going to get that. So I said, Okay, and they go because if not, you can’t play but I’m like I told you from square one. Like I went paid for all these camps, like I was gonna lose my mind to be honest. At the time I was working, took time off work did you know didn’t get paid, paid for camps. And then meanwhile, I didn’t even have a chance to make the team because I’m not Canadian. And so anyway, so I, you know, filled out my for my case of citizenship, you know, sent it out, but they can only rush it so much. And they got it back. And then I had to go and do my I did a one on one interview with the judge. They go make sure you study I go I’ve been here my whole life. Make sure you study because you have to all know all the politics who’s
Sami Jo: Right. Yeah, it isn’t easy.
Geraldine: The first time I studied for a test study.
Sami Jo: Studied just period.
Geraldine: So I was like, oh, I better study because I don’t want to fail this one. Right? So I went and so I went to the judge, obviously, that now that I passed,
Sami Jo: How much time before? Like, how much time before the Worlds is this?
Geraldine: I think two weeks before they were gonna say no?
Sami Jo: So did they name you to the team? And then it was just kind of, if you got the
Geraldine: Well, yeah, more or less, but they could have told me that in my first meeting, telling me, you know, you had a great camp, but just can’t name it to the team, I would have felt a little better. But then they told me after we well, we couldn’t name you because you weren’t Canadian. And we weren’t sure if you were going to get it in time. And so it worked out.
Sami Jo: It worked out very well. Yeah. So you had two weeks to prepare for the World Championships. And what was it like?
Geraldine: Kinda sounding like kind of like Salt Lake kinda like we had, remember?
Sami Jo: Yeah, that’ll be, that’s my next question. But yeah, I mean, you perform best when you’re just kind of laissez-faire. Like, here we go. We’re just going to go and perform and score the big goals. But what was it like competing at those World Championships.
Geraldine: Oh, it was it was it was it was amazing. I mean, obviously we weren’t pink that year. If you remember as I guess that was the big you know, the big media question wasn’t about how you got to happy to be here. It was what do you think of the uniforms? And we didn’t care. It was like, you know, we were playing the white pants were actually worse than the pink jerseys but right.
Sami Jo: And the white tracksuits?
Geraldine: Oh, yeah. Yeah. So it was obviously like, probably like your first World Championship. It’s the first one but this was the first of the first and the play in Ottawa. And it was unbelievable, like, we played the Civic Center and it was sold out all the time. So like, the interest was there, like there was about 9000 people in you know, in the stands at that time, and it was loud. And just to think that while we’re playing in front of all these, you know, all these people and you know, we were just so happy to be able to play and obviously had a blast and obviously was us and the Americas that was the start of the first guest Canada/US final. But it was great. It was just you know, you know, and then to win, it was even better. And, you know, like you said, as you probably remember your first World Championship, and I think we all do.
Sami Jo: And like I said because it was the first of the first It must have been even more special but you then went on to be top defenseman in ‘92 and ‘94 World Championships. But you also played and won seven World Championships, which when I looked back, it could have been 10 or 11 if they actually played the World Championships every year so it’s a little bit of a misnomer to say that you went to 7 and won 7. I also, let’s go with that. Would have been that. Had they had the World Championships. But when you look back at it, what was the favorite worlds besides the 1990? Because that’s your first. And why do you think that Canada was so successful for that entire, you know, decade and a half that you were on the team?
Geraldine: Um, that’s a good question. You know, there were some of those championships we were, I won’t say, probably lucky to win, we won by one or our goaltending helped us out. Obviously, Kim St-Pierre, going into the Hall of Fame. I think she won us a couple. And, you know, it was always close. I think Finland was a really the only year it was and I think we won 8-0 nothing in that final. But really, that was the only year that we dominated the US. So it was always close. It was always a close final, obviously, with the other teams, you know, towards the end of my career, you know, Finland started getting a little bit better and Sweden, but they were still not really that step behind. But like I said, I mean, it was always close with the US.
Sami Jo: What was some of your some of your favorite moments? What was your favorite win besides 1990.
Geraldine: When would you say, besides Kitchener I really enjoyed as well, I think
Sami Jo: In 1997 that was an overtime victory, right?
Geraldine: Yes. So obviously, that’s probably why and just being in Kitchener, I guess, being an Ontario not far from home. And again, just, you know, the atmosphere in the rink in the Aud there was, you know, amazing. And, you know, it’s, you know, yourself when you win in overtime is that it’s more it’s more stressful, but it’s obviously more exciting, then, you know, like, in Finland, we won 8-0 like yay, we won. It was great. But I think it’s always better when you have to work harder for something when you actually do achieve that goal. And because, you know, it’d be obviously, I worked hard. And we won. And, you know, it’s, I think it’s more meaningful winning that way. But like I said, you know, it’s a little bit more stressful for parents and the people in the stands.
Sami Jo: But, yeah, party at the end even more memorable?
Geraldine: That’s right. Yeah. So I would say, Yeah, but they’re all they’re all, you know, they’re all great, because, you know, every year the National Team changed, you know, you know, players on the team, so you’re winning with different players all the time. And then some of them were was their first and I always like to see him, the ones that came in, that was their first World Championship, whatever one it was, and, and just, you know, seeing them enjoy for the very first time and enjoying it with them. And so that, you know, I loved also watching that too.
Sami Jo: Well, I would say that of all the teammates I played with you were the one that enjoyed it the most with all of us. So thank you for that.
Geraldine: I knew you were gonna say that.
Sami Jo: Talking about overcoming challenges. And, you know, it being more special when you really have to climb to the top of the mountain prior to the 2002 Olympics. We alluded to this a little bit earlier, but you sustained if I remember a knee injury that nearly kept you off the team. So what happened? How did you sustain that knee injury? And then how did you, how were you able to fight for your spot back on the team?
Geraldine: Well, I don’t know if you recall, my Mom had a stroke that year.
Sami Jo: At Christmas time, right?
Geraldine: Yeah. Right before. Yeah, it was actually New Year’s Eve. Because I remember I think we all had to be on a call on New Year’s Day. They wanted everybody on a group call there.
Sami Jo: It was while we’re at home, right?
Geraldine: Yes. We’re all at home. Yeah and I just remember getting a call from my sister because they they’re up north living and said that my Mom had a stroke and you need to get it’s bad. You need to get down, you know, get up here. So we made our way I was making my way up to Midland area where my where they were living, and got a call that they were trying, they were going to fly her down to Mississauga because it was that bad that they needed to get her to a bigger hospital. But because of the wind, it was very windy. They couldn’t fly her. So I almost got there as we were arriving there. The ambulance was already taking her back to Mississauga. So I turn around and go see her in Mississauga. So she was in ICU for a while. And you know, it was not looking very good at the time. So I went to see her and I think we were going, we were heading to the states to play Detroit, Chicago. And then we’re going to play in Vancouver, if I recall, those were the three games.
Sami Jo: That makes sense. Yeah.
Geraldine: So when we went to Detroit, we played the game. There are no we played Chicago first. And I think Detroit was the second game of that little mini tour. And I wasn’t sure if I should go because my Mom still wasn’t quite out of the woods yet. And, you know, I knew my Mom would want me to go. So I said, you know, I’m going to go so you know, my Dad says you should just go you should go home. And you know, keep your mind off. So I went and then I hurt my knee in the game. So I was just like, Oh, my God, like, seriously, like, my Mom’s not doing well. I knew what I had done to my knee. And I knew it wasn’t good, because I’d done it once before and roller hockey was my MCL. So obviously, came off the ice and they took me to the dressing room and they looked at in and said you are not going back on. So I then I knew that it was bad the next day primarily can move at whatever went back got an MRI done. And it was my MCL. So not didn’t need surgery, but needed probably six to eight weeks for recovery and didn’t have time again.
Sami Jo: So at that point we would have been a month out from the Olympics, right?
Geraldine: We weren’t too far out. So I came back home, my mum was out of ICU and I went to see her but didn’t want to come or anything I just said, you know, the coaches have been very nice. And let me have a few days home.
Sami Jo: And well it probably worked out perfect. You did get some time off, right to go and visit.
Geraldine: Yeah, so I did, I got the time off to the visit her. And, you know, Sauvageau was saying, yep, just take your time there. And then the next day, I got a call from her telling me that I had to get back to Calgary. So and they want to have the doctor for the Olympic team to have a look at me and to see how I’m doing because they need to know whether I was going to be replaced though they always carry the extra players anyhow. So I was kind of kind of a little pissed off that I had to get rushed out there because I knew I couldn’t do anything different than what I could have done at home. So I got on the plane when I went and saw the doctor and he was kind of, I won’t get into the whole thing with you Sami. So you kind of know the story. So I went saw the doctor, and he was….
Sami Jo: We’ll just say there’s a little bit of pushback on both sides for our listeners. Yes, yeah, we’ll say it that way.
Geraldine: Yeah. So went he saw him, and he said, you know, there’s a chance you could play with a brace and be at a certain percent and whatever. And I said, Okay, you know, that’s great. I said, but I really need to get on the ice because I’m getting a little pressure from the coaches that they need to make a decision which I understand they have to make a decision. So I got back on the ice and skated and felt okay, and, you know, fine, that’s fine. And then she was, you know, the coach was saying, you know, take it easy. Don’t push too hard. Blah blah.
Sami Jo: And you were you wearing a big brace at the time, too.
Geraldine: Yeah, yeah. So I had the brace on, I was playing and all that restricts you quite a bit. But, you know, just if I can get out there, that’s fine and deal with the rest. So, practice and then you know, so then I think three days later, they’re like, okay, you’re going full out now. So okay, that’s fine. Alright. You know, I was feeling pretty good. Then we played one of the midget teams and I really believe that game was probably you know, they’re going to this is my tryout again, as far as I was concerned.
Sami Jo: So it would be been midget boys. Yeah, because we played them a lot throughout that season, right?
Geraldine: Yeah. And so we played them I think we won like 7-3, I felt I had a pretty good game. Wasn’t didn’t look out of place or anything like that contributed, I think a couple of rules or whatever. So I thought after the game, I thought I’m in, I felt good. And you know, and I told Sauvageau right from the beginning. Listen, I don’t need to just to go to the Olympics. I went to one already. I would never do that to jeopardize As the team, I said, I’d be very honest with you. And so I, you know, so I was very honest with her, and I thought I played well. So she took me in and told me that they hadn’t made a decision yet. And we’re leaving in like a week. I think you should make a decision.
Sami Jo: Yeah. Like, what can I do differently? Basically?
Geraldine: Yeah. So it was more of a wait, well, we have to watch the video. So my point was, well, I couldn’t have been that bad, though. Because you were, I think, this is your big decision to make. I don’t know what else you’re watching. But that’s fine. But I obviously it wasn’t too happy with that sort of remark. And so I left then. You know, the next morning, I got called in, and she wanted to see me. And so I went in. And, you know, she kind of changed her tune a little bit and told me that they were going to be taking me, so as was a good relief.
Sami Jo: This time you had a full week before the Olympics to prepare perfect.
Geraldine: Exactly. You know, what the most disappointing was, I remember, it was probably two weeks before that everyone’s getting suited up for all their Olympic gear, and I’m kind of getting suited up. And I don’t know, if I’m going to get to wear it is right, in my mind. And I kind of lost the excitement of that, you know, because it is an exciting time. You know, getting this, you know, your new jerseys and everything like that. And I’m like, Well, I don’t even know where I’ll be. Right. So. But you know, what, it all worked out in the end. And at the end of the day, you know, I was glad that they took a chance on me, you know, obviously played, you know, with the brace and wasn’t maybe 100%. But I still thought I could contribute and do the job that.
Sami Jo: Clearly you did, because the way that the Olympics went and with the referee, we relied on our defense more than we ever had. So I realized that you were back there, and that you got yourself to that point. But did it make the victory even more sweet and special? Because you knew you had gone through this? You’ve kept a lot of that from the team. I mean, most of us had no idea. I knew a little bit. But nobody really knew the full extent of that. I guess that push back. We just assumed you’re on the team the whole time. There was never in our minds a question that Geraldine Heaney would not be going to the Olympics. So did it make it more special in the end for you?
Geraldine: Oh, it definitely did it. And I’m obviously the one the biggest disappointment was my Mom and my Dad couldn’t come because she just got home from the hospital. So she wasn’t allowed to fly. So I think, not just only with my knee, just my Mom was doing well. And it was nice, like a weight off my shoulders. We did it down. I remember talking to my Mom before the game. And you know, she doesn’t really say a lot or she doesn’t really joke. She jokes around but not and all’s I remember telling me is if you don’t win the gold medal don’t come home. Like, oh, and I remember I just couldn’t wait. Like I got off the ice. I don’t know, somebody gave me a phone. And the first call is I had to call my parents and all I said to my Mom, can I come home now. So it was awesome. You know, I just very fortunate that my parents actually got the experience Nagano and going to the Olympics. Because you know, that’s I mean your parents been, then it’s an experience of a lifetime, not just for us, but for family. If that was the only one I went to, and they couldn’t come because of health issues are probably would have been a little disappointing. Obviously, it was it was disappointing that they weren’t there. But they did again, get that experience in Nagano
Sami Jo: And also a totally different experience for them having this new outlook on life too. You know, like here they are seeing their daughter live out her passion. I’m sure it was pretty special, even though they had to watch it through the TV.
Geraldine: But you know, it’s always different watching it. So they guess they got both experiences.
Sami Jo: Right? Yeah, there you go.
Geraldine: They, you know, ya it’s different. They had the whole house full. So they had a good party. So it was, you know, it was it was definitely a great way to end a pretty up and down here. Yeah, it was pretty special.
Sami Jo: Well, last question. Looking back on your career, I think two things stand out to me. One we’ve already talked about that you always like to have a good time, you’re always up for whatever the team is doing. Just very amenable very easy going. And I love that about you. And your fitness your fitness was always the top on the team and yet you were never really in your face about fitness you never you know around the team. It wasn’t like you, you know push that mantra on everybody else. But behind the scenes. I don’t think anybody worked harder and I don’t think enough people really give me credit for that. Because I you don’t become as fit as Geraldine Heaney without putting in the time and effort. So I guess the last question I have for you is where did you learn that work ethic and has it always been instilled in you, did you always have it? And back to the liking to have a good time? How did you then also have balance in your life? And how did you kind of create that? Or is that something that your, your family instilled in you, or you learn from coaches or why was balance, so important?
Geraldine: Um, I probably learned it from my coaches and my parents, and probably my teammates too. But you’re right, I learned, you know, I obviously loved having a good time afterwards. And you know, that I always wanted to be in shape. I always wanted to, I mean, hockey is obviously a sport that you need to be in very good shape to play. And I think I think I first started doing that once I knew it was becoming an Olympic sport that I want it to. So after my first World Championships, yes, I trained hard for that. And might’ve started then. And then just kept playing in the Worlds. But then once I heard an Olympics was going to happen in ‘94. I was like, Well, how long do I have? Like, am I going to be around for maybe the first or second or sorry, the first Olympics was in ‘98. Will I still be able to play at that level. And I think knowing there was going to be an Olympics, that was something that I wanted to achieve, to, to play in and to win Olympic gold medal, because as a kid, I was growing up I wanted, I want to go the Olympics, but I never knew what for because there wasn’t a lot of obviously team sports for women to participate in. And I think knowing that there was an Olympics really pushed me and the competition in Canada to make the Canadian team was it’s unbelievable. Like, there’s so many, there’s so many great hockey players out there. And, and I felt that if I was fitter than most, and that would take me a little bit.,
Sami Jo: Which you were, I mean, you had some of the top testing that we had ever seen. You, we would run the beep test. And you would just simply stop because nobody else was running with you. You had gone so far. So yes, you had some incredible fitness. You don’t give yourself enough credit. But yeah, it was impressive.
Geraldine: And for balance, like I knew if I was going to have a good time, I had to get up and you know what suffer through it. Because this is something that I want to keep continuing doing. And if I’m going to go out, I’m going to be the first up the next day, and I’m going to go It doesn’t matter how I’m feeling. I don’t know where I got that from I just the worst I felt the harder I tried. And I don’t know if that was just the I don’t know, crazy. I have no idea where it really that came from. And I but I always remember even being at home if I was out with friends or something. And the next day, I would not let my parents know I was hurt. And I was always like that, and I would get up and I would be like oh yeah, I’m great. I’m fine. I didn’t want to let anybody know I was struggling.
Sami Jo: Yeah, well, you always made it such a great time for everybody around you. I mean, I think that you just you wanted to really celebrate whatever it was that we had just accomplished with everybody and make sure that everybody was having a good time. I don’t know if that was your Irish background, or just your willingness to want to be a great teammate, I think is, you know, your, to me, you should have had a letter throughout your whole career. But I think part of it was you were kind of more of the quieter behind the scenes team builder that I really appreciated it because I think that you could see people on their own level and I always appreciated that about you.
Geraldine: I appreciate that Sami but I totally agree I was more of the quiet leader times you might not think so. But yeah, I was you know, when I talk about leaders to with my boys team and stuff like that there’s all different types of leaders, you don’t have to be that loud person. I think I lead by example, by how hard I worked and you know, really never took a night off. And that’s leading to like you don’t like you wouldn’t believe it, Sami, but I was a shy kid. Like my Mom used to say like, her teacher would call them thought something was wrong with me. And, you know, that’s what sport did for me. That’s what hockey did for me. Because when, whenever I was out playing sports, I wasn’t that shy kid. It was, it was in my safe, you know, spot and I felt I could just I could be myself. I didn’t really like to talk a lot. And really, I don’t think even through, you know, the last few years, I’m not the one to speak up. Somebody asked me something, I’ll give them an answer. But I wasn’t ever that rah rah leader. And like I said, and I didn’t need a letter I that didn’t bother me at all. I mean, there was a lot of good leaders in that dressing room and have a lot of good captains and, you know, so it’s yeah, and that’s what I try to explain to the other kids too. You don’t need a letter, like don’t think because you don’t have one don’t stop leading.
Sami Jo: Well, you certainly lead by example with your worth work ethic and your ability to connect with people on their own level and, you know, maybe on the quieter side but you always gravitated to people like me who talked a lot.
Geraldine: You can talk for me.
Sami Jo: Exactly. You supported all of us in such an amazing way. And I think that having somebody like you on the team, I personally think that’s what made us so successful for so long was just that expectation. You bring your best, I’ll bring my best. Let’s have a good time and enjoy this moment. And that to me is Geraldine Heaney in a nutshell.
Geraldine: I appreciate that Sami,
Sami Jo: Well thank you. So that’s a great way to end it. So thank you for being on my podcast. I hope the listeners really understand just what an amazing hockey player you are but also what an amazing person you are. So thank you.
Geraldine: Oh, thanks. It was a lot of fun.
Sami Jo: All right. Take care.
Geraldine: Alright see ya!
Music/Man voice: Thank you for listening to Sami Jo’s Podcast. If you have suggestions for guests in the future, would like to book her for your next event, advertise on this podcast or to purchase a her latest book, The Role I Played please go to www.samijosmall.ca