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Jenny Scrivens ’10: Breaking Down Barriers And Making History
Professional women’s hockey leagues have existed since the early 1990’s when the Central Ontario Women’s Hockey League was founded in 1992, which eventually turned into the now defunct National Women’s Hockey League. The Western Women’s Hockey League and the Canadian Women’s Hockey League were founded in 2004 and 2007, respectively, and they were, up until this year, the best opportunity for professional women’s players to play in non-Olympics competitions. These leagues, though, are unpaid. The CWHL, for one, relies upon volunteers to provide equipment, travel, and administrative costs. The league knew that the goal would eventually be to pay players, but covering expenses would be the first step. It is eight years after the creation of the CWHL, and women’s hockey is ready for that next step. The landscape of women’s hockey is rapidly changing, and one Cornell graduate is on the ground floor.
So when the National Women’s Hockey League, the first hockey league in history to sign women to paid contracts, launched in April, Jenny Scrivens ’10 was immediately drawn to it. “I had been following the NWHL since they announced the launch of the league in the spring,” Scrivens said, “and I was so impressed with their social media presence and how they were able to garner so much attention and publicity with essentially no budget… Once I started to follow along, some people I played hockey with were joining the league, and that just made it resonate with me that much more. So, I got in touch with the commissioner Dani Rylan and [told her]… that this would be the perfect fit for me, and that I really wanted to help.” As many alumni and fans of Big Red hockey know, Scrivens is no stranger to the sport. She played three seasons as the goalie for Cornell Women’s Hockey, and her husband, Ben Scrivens ’10, is a goalie for the Edmonton Oilers.
It all began when Scrivens was a child growing up in Camarillo, California. “I started playing hockey when I was about six years old. My twin sister and I have two older brothers, and they were always playing street hockey, and we wanted to be just like them and do everything they were doing, so we started out with street hockey in the cul de sac,” she said. That naturally led her to ice hockey, her sport of choice, around the age of ten. “There were more opportunities for ice hockey,” she said, “[and when] we joined a girls hockey league, travelling around and playing tournaments for one of the club teams, we then realized there were University teams scouting for female hockey players, and there was a little bit more of a future from there. Once we saw the opportunities, we were hooked.”
Scrivens made it seem like an easy jump to go from street hockey to being scouted by University teams, but she understated her obvious talents. After joining the California Select Under-19 AA Team, she won the 2005 National Ice Hockey Championships, and she was named the goalie of the year. She was also the captain and most valuable player on her high school tennis team, so hockey was no fluke. She was incredibly athletic, and there was no question she would play Division I hockey.
Naturally, Cornell was the perfect fit for her needs. She said she wanted both a great Division I program and a good education, and Cornell checked off both for her. She described her time as “the best four years of [her] life.” While playing for Cornell, she spent time sharing the net with two other goalies, Kayla Strong and Amanda Mazzotta, so she was constantly competing for ice time.
That, though, only pushed her to be better. “It pushed each one of us to be a little bit better, because if we weren’t on top of our game that day, another goalie would get the spot the next day… It pushed me to be better at practice too which was a big jump from high school for me. Growing up in California we didn’t have a lot of ice time, so we practiced twice a week and played games on weekends, [while at Cornell] you’re on the ice Monday through [Saturday],” Scrivens said of her college career.
Even though she was forced to share the starting spot, she was no slouch. She is still ranked sixth all-time in career save percentage at .903, and notched 30 saves in a game 19 times. The peak of her career was in the first game of the 2008 ECAC Quarterfinals, where she had 53 saves against Harvard.
Once her college career had ended, she was relatively sure her competitive playing days were over, even though she “never strayed far from the game.” Ben Scrivens was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2010, so after graduation she moved with him to Toronto to begin her career, one she says she “couldn’t have planned better.”
She spent much of the next few years in business marketing, and then she went back to school for post-graduate work to study public relations at Humber College. This was timed perfectly, as Ben was traded to the Los Angeles Kings just after she completed her degree. She spent the next six months working in Los Angeles for a PR agency, work she credits for teaching her how to market brands successfully.
She then moved to Edmonton in 2014 after Ben was traded to the Oilers, and she decided it was time to work in the non-profit sphere. She describes this work as the nexus between two loves: marketing and volunteer work, and the latter was “…a value my parents instilled in me, [and] it was reinforced at Cornell with the women’s hockey team where we did a lot of community outreach.”
She worked for the next year and change as the director of communications for Ronald McDonald House, doing incredibly fulfilling charity work, but she couldn’t resist women’s hockey when the moment came. “At first it was just helping with PR,” she said, “but then I realized there was an opportunity to get back to playing hockey, and I jumped on it. It sounded kind of crazy at first, to give up everything and move to Brooklyn to play professional hockey, but once the reality sank in, this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.” She signed her first professional contract on August 11, 2015 with the New York Riveters. The Riveters are one of four inaugural teams in the league, which also includes the Boston Pride, the Buffalo Beauts, and the Connecticut Whale. The Riveters will begin regular season play on October 11th, and their home season will begin a week later at the Aviator Sports & Events Center in Brooklyn. They will compete until March to decide the winner of the Isobel Cup, named after Lady Isobel Gathorne-Hardy, daughter of the Stanley Cup’s namesake Frederick Stanley.
Becoming both a professional hockey player and a member of a new league’s communications team has its difficulties, and she knows she’ll need time to adjust. There is, of course, the adjustment to playing competitively. She described this as an immense challenge: “It’s been a very challenging experience… I’ve been on the ice, coaching as a goalie coach, so my head hasn’t left the game. I’ve been keeping up on new advances in goal tending, but I wasn’t playing competitively anymore. So, I had to make that switch pretty quickly, get back into playing shape, and get back on the ice as much as possible… It came back a little quicker than I thought, but the game has changed a lot, too, so… it’s been a bit of a challenge. It’s fun to see the progress.”
Her road to competitive playing time will be tough, because just like with her time at Cornell, she will be competing with two other goalies, including Nana Fujimoto, the goalie for the Japanese national team. There’s also the adjustment with her living situation, as well. On one hand, it’s far from unique because, while Ben played professionally, “[she] met a lot of women who have stayed in their home towns or had to travel for work”, but it is certainly unique in the sense that both her and Ben are professional goalies. He has been incredibly supportive, though, as he came to her practices during the summer, offered advice when asked, and made sure not to be “the overbearing goalie coach.”
She acknowledges the limitations of such a league from a PR perspective, that they’ll always be trying to reach the benchmark of matching the prestige and coverage of the NHL. But for her, that doesn’t matter. “To market women’s hockey,” she said, “we have to show that it is a little bit different, and show that maybe we have a little bit more finesse… Also, [we have to] bring that personality into the game as well; that’s something where we have an advantage… When I was playing at Cornell, I don’t think I had a Twitter account, and I didn’t have an Instagram account. That, for me, is what is making the NWHL so relevant… you can get to know the players and the people, show how hard we work to get here… We are our own unique sport.” With more growth, she hopes that fans can follow NWHL teams on television, and that one day the league will expand beyond its four initial franchises. Not only will this expand the market, but it will “…provide more opportunities for women to play hockey after their college career,” which is something women’s hockey players never had before.
Most importantly, though, this league has an impact beyond her own playing career. Careers are incredibly ephemeral, but she hopes that the effects of such a historic league can carry on to the next generation. She said, when asked of the influence this league would have on young women, that, “That’s the biggest part of joining the NWHL for me, to be able to pave the way for young girls growing up today… Maybe they’re six or seven years old… [you] give them the opportunity to say, ‘This could be me one day. I can break down these barriers, or I can do something people laugh at.’ All 72 of us hope to be an inspiration to someone… And also [we want to show] how beneficial hockey and sports have been in our lives. I know for me, personally, it’s taught me a lot: it’s taught me about being a team player, time management, and how to set and achieve goals; and, also, it taught me to not let the small road blocks get to you. For me to grow up in Southern California and end up at a great school like Cornell–it was a big goal for me, and I want to be able to show other young girls that they can do this too. It doesn’t matter that you’re a girl, it just matters that you have a passion for it and try your best.”