As good as Brianne Jenner was in her freshman season at Cornell, her coaches challenged her to be even better this season.
As a freshman, the 5-foot-9 forward from Oakville, Ontario, had 50 points (23 goals and 27 assists) and was a first-team all-Eastern College Athletic Conference pick who helped the Big Red reach the semifinals of the NCAA’s Frozen Four.
But Jenner, who’s been playing hockey since the age of 3, admits she hasn’t always played a physical, scrambling, do-anything kind of game around the net that can be especially effective in the playoffs and games against the nation’s elite teams.
“I don’t know if you’d call me finesse,” she said, laughing. “But I think sometimes I could fall back into playing on the perimeter and not really crashing the net like I can.”
In tough situations in the past, she says, she’d often fall back to her comfort zone.
This year, the team’s coaching staff not only wants what it saw last year — a player with good hands, vision and the ability to pass and score in space — but a player who can also use her size to her advantage in the crush of bodies in front of the other team’s net; to separate players from the puck and cash in on scrambling opportunities; to be a true power forward.
“I think I’ve taken that to heart,” she said. “I mean, there’s still some things I can do that they’re harping on me about. … But I think that’s been a big component of my game this year as opposed to last year. Just playing a bit more rough and tumble power-forward style.”
Early in the season — in several big games, including a sweep of Boston University (which defeated Cornell in last season’s NCAA semifinals) — she said her new style paid off for the Big Red, the No. 3 ranked team in the nation at 28-3-0, which this weekend swept Brown to reach the ECAC semifinals.
“My line, we had a few goals, just grinding-out dirty goals,” she said. “You’re not going to always have the perfect passing play, and I think when we go back to the playoffs that’s just what we need to get back to: just crashing the net and playing hungry and playing physical, because it doesn’t come easy and you’re not going to have time and space to make those fancy plays.”
Jenner, who’s centered Cornell’s No. 1 line with freshman Jillian Saunier on one side and senior Rebecca Johnston on the other, leads the ECAC in assists with 32 and has scored 16 goals, including four game-winners. The high-scoring line has helped power Cornell to being the highest-scoring team in the ECAC at 4.71 goals per game.
Jenner said she considers herself “an all-right playmaker,” but she gives credit to her line mates for her high assist total this season. Their speed and the chemistry they share on the ice has been a terrific combination. She said her teammates’ quickness and pace of play has elevated her own game.
“And as far as the assists, it shows you the skill of the players I’m playing with,” she said, laughing.
Jenner and Johnston both are among the 30 finalists nominated for the annual Patty Kazmaier Award, given to the nation’s top player, along with Cornell teammates Laura Fortino and Lauriane Rougeau.
Jenner has been remarkably consistent and productive, at one point scoring in 12 straight games this season.
Her focus this season hasn’t been on individual awards, but on team success. After getting within a game of the NCAA final, she’s hungry for more.
But, she knows playoff hockey can be a one-and-done heartbreaker.
“We have all the ingredients, but it’s up to us how we perform in the playoffs,” she said. “In hockey the outcome’s always unknown and it’s the team that shows up when it comes down to crunch time. So everything we’ve done in the regular season really is thrown out the window.”
Johnston hasn’t yet officially declared a major yet, but says she’s decided it will be government. After college, she’s also considering a law degree.
But, she also has more hockey ahead, too.
Jenner was one of the last cuts by Team Canada prior to the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games, and she’s played on the Canadian Under-18 and U-22 teams, helping the U-22 team win a gold medal at the 2010 MLP Cup in Germany.
After almost making the 2010 Olympic team, she’d love a shot to be on the Canadian team at the Sochi Games in 2014.
“That’s definitely my goal, but you never know,” she said. “There’s so many good players coming up and there’s a lot of veterans that don’t want to give up their spot, so it’s definitely going to be a battle.”
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