Jen Scrivens wasn’t in net for the moment she calls her favourite so far as a goalie in the National Women’s Hockey League.
Her team, the New York Riveters, was in Stamford, Conn., on Oct. 11, to face the Connecticut Whale for a chippy battle they would lose, 4–1. The outcome may not have been ideal, but what Scrivens remembers fondly is the feeling in the arena right before the puck dropped for the first time in the league’s first-ever game.
“The crowd was so loud,” she says. “Hearing the national anthem and everyone cheering, all the girls in the stands with signs—the little girl with the sign that said, ‘Future draft pick 2027’—it just gave me chills.”
Growing up in Southern California, Scrivens—a self-described “product of the Gretzky era”—never imagined she’d someday play in the first paid professional women’s hockey league in North America. She took up street hockey as a way of spending time with her two older brothers, and by age six she was imitating Kelly Hrudey in her parents’ driveway. But as much as the game was her passion, a pro career didn’t seem possible.
“I remember looking up to Manon Rhéaume and wanting to play professional hockey, but it was never a realistic dream,” she says. “Manon didn’t have a league to play in—I only knew of her from that one [NHL] exhibition game—and I didn’t hear anything else about her for a long time. The dream sort of faded.”
— Jenny Scrivens (@JenScrivs) February 2, 2016
Scrivens set her sights on NCAA Div. I, and along with her identical twin sister, Megan, a forward, she attended Cornell. She met her husband, Ben, also a goalie, in college, and when he signed with the Maple Leafs, Scrivens moved to Toronto, taking a full-time job in marketing. Whenever Ben was traded—first to the L.A. Kings, then to the Edmonton Oilers—Scrivens moved, too, finding work in public relations and communications. She no longer played hockey, though she did coach a 12-and-under team.
And keeping her head in the game paid off. Last summer, when Scrivens heard about the formation of the NWHL, she met with Dani Rylan, the league’s co-founder and Riveters GM, hoping to lend a hand with her background in PR. Rylan offered Scrivens a dual role instead: play for the Riveters, and work for the league. “I don’t think I could have dreamt up a better job,” says Scrivens.
Taking up the game again meant getting back in shape and moving to Brooklyn, away from her family and her husband, who now plays for the Montreal Canadiens. It also meant long hours. Although players in the four-team league are paid, most still need to work other jobs, and the schedule—while set up to accommodate full-time work, with two practices a week and games
on weekends—can be gruelling. Scrivens works in the NWHL office, promoting awareness of the league.
“It’s challenging,” she says. “I want to do the PR role to the best of my ability, but I also have to make sure that I’m well-rested and I’m eating well enough and I’m focused enough to perform at practice and during games.”
The ultimate goal is to build up a fan base and grow the game. For Scrivens, the chance to serve as a role model to a younger generation makes all the hard work worthwhile.
“Games are at seven o’clock at night on Sundays, and we all stay afterward to sign autographs,” she says. “We’ll have kids as young as four and five, up way past their bedtime just to stand in line and meet us. That, to me, is the whole reason we’re here.”
Portrait photo by Matthew Tammaro.
This article originally appeared in Sportsnet magazine. Subscribe here.