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Wakefield brings dual Swedish hockey experiences to women's world championship

04/01/2015 02:31 EDT | Updated 06/01/2015 05:59 EDT
MALMO, Sweden - Jennifer Wakefield doubled up on Swedish hockey playing in both men's and women's leagues this season.

The Canadian power forward helped Linkoping's women's club win their elite league title. Wakefield also played for the Division 3 men's club IK Guts in nearby Norkkoping.

"It was awesome. I got the best of both worlds," Wakefield said.

The 25-year-old from Pickering, Ont., followed in the footsteps of Canadian teammate Hayley Wickenheiser, who played 21 games in Sweden for the men's team Eskilstuna Linden during the 2008-09 season.

But it was important to Wakefield to remain in the women's game, so she would be ready to play for Canada at this week's world hockey championship in Malmo, Sweden.

Wakefield and Toronto's Natalie Spooner are tied for the lead in team scoring with two goals and three assists in three games heading into Friday's semifinal. Canada will face Finland with the winner advancing to Saturday's championship game.

Wakefield, five-foot-10 and 172 pounds, lasered a shot upstairs on Finnish goalie Eveliina Suonpaa in a preliminary-round game. Up 2-1 late in the second period at the time, her goal sparked Canada's offence en route to a 6-2 win.

"She's had a great tournament here so far for us," Canadian head coach Doug Derraugh said. "She said playing with the men she learned a lot because they wouldn't let her off the hook.

"They weren't afraid to tell her 'you've got to do this, you've got to do that' and also learning to play with the body checking too. You give somebody a bad pass and they'll let you know about it. I think she has picked up a few things over here."

After helping the Canadian women claim gold at last year's Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, Wakefield went looking for new hockey and life experiences.

"I decided to see the world a little bit," said Wakefield, who played her college hockey at both Boston University and the University of New Hampshire.

After the Winter Games, she headed to northern Sweden and a women's club team in Pitea to finish out their season with them. Wakefield had seven points in four games.

"My ticket was to play on a women's team up in Pitea, just to go snowboarding and stuff and kind of decompress from the Olympics," Wakefield explained. "I got asked to come back through a men's team and also with a women's team."

She compiled 18 goals and four assists in 15 games for the Linkoping women this season. Wakefield contributed a goal and an assist in the league championship game for a 5-0 win over AIK.

Wakefield signed a one-year contract last summer with IK Guts, which actually plays in the fifth tier of Swedish men's hockey as there are two leagues above Division 1. Wickenheiser played in Division 1, or the third tier.

"It's different than any hockey I've ever played, just with the contact," Wakefield said of playing against men. "They do step in and try and to put you through the walls rather than try and angle you.

"I just think it really taught me to keep my head up. In the girls' game I'm a bigger player so I'm able to use my body more. But the first game I tried to use my body in the men's game, I got absolutely crushed."

Wakefield had five goals and eight assists in 15 games for the men's team. More importantly, Wakefield was on the ice almost every day this winter.

The Canadian women are a full-time team only during the winter prior to an Olympic Games. For players no longer in college or university, getting quality ice time every day is difficult.

Wakefield doesn't know where she'll play next season, but she feels she got the most out of her Swedish experience.

"I felt like it really improved my game a lot," she said.

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