When Dani Hennig was hitting the ball around before her first national team identification camp, she could never have predicted the career she was about to have. Fast forward over 10 years later, and she has 200 caps to her name, she’s played in more than 50 tournaments and has etched her name into the stone wall of Canadian hockey history.
The Kelowna native took her first big stride when she moved to Vancouver Island to play for the University of Victoria Vikes. She scored the game-winning goal in the 2008 CIS final proving herself as a big-game competitor. She soaked up every piece of information and improved her game so much that she was invited to take part in a national team camp after only one year of university play. Hennig made her first national team appearance in June 2010 and never looked back.
“The whole time I’ve been a part of the program, there have been women paving the way”
With the support of experienced team members, coaches and mentors, Hennig found her role and continued to develop into a starting player. Hennig notes Steph Jameson, Tyla Flexman and Katie Baker as role models and drivers of the program at the time.
Baker, a national team captain from 2010-2012 and Hennig’s former club teammate with the Meralomas, said that Hennig was immediately one of those players that stood out.
“I remember at the 2011 Pan Ams, she was put in a high-pressure situation and took on the challenge so well,” Baker said. “She was relatively new at the time…but that was the time she really took off. It was obvious that she could perform under pressure and you could tell she was going to have a long, successful career.”
According to Hennig, she jumped at every opportunity to grow and learn and quickly became enamoured with the prospect of carrying forward the team culture that had been developing around her.
“I was very raw when I started, but over the years, the little bits of success, the challenge of pushing yourself to be better every day, you learn to love it. The whole time I’ve been a part of the program, there have been women paving the way,” Hennig said. “They were pushing the boundaries in terms of fitness and creating a team mentality and team culture.”
She surged through the lineup and became a mainstay on the defensive line by 2012. And by 2013, she was considered a top player and emerging into a team leader. Alongside current team captain, Kate Wright and a handful of other leaders, Hennig led the team to new highs throughout the past 10 years. Baker said that her and Hennig though they only crossed over for a few years, she can see the impact she has had on the team over the past decade.
“Dani made everybody around her better, and she pushed those around her to be better and bring the best of themselves and to expect more,” Baker said. “She’s done so much for the program.”
Dani Hennig received her first international cap in 2010 and her final senior cap in 2019. Her 200 caps is the second most Canadian women’s hockey history.
In 2019, as Hennig retires, the Canadian Wolfpack is ranked 14th in the world, a decade-high ranking. They improved their Pan American standing each year since Hennig joined the team, culminating with a historic silver medal in 2019 in Lima. The team was inches away from an Olympic bid as they fell to Ireland in sudden death shootout during the 2019 fall qualifier.
Wright, who has over 225 international caps, has played the majority of her career side-by-side Hennig. She said that Hennig brought a unmatched dedication and commitment to the program and that Hennig’s impact on and off the field will long be remembered, celebrated and emulated.
“As leaders, we knew we wanted to build a foundation and culture for the team,” Wright said. “Dani was a huge part of this. She was always was 100 per cent in We wanted to be a high-performing program but also be supportive to the younger athletes.”
With that in mind, Wright said that Dani’s leadership style was supportive and communicative, and she paved the way for the younger generations to step up.
“She always led by example. She put her body on the line, she made diving tackles, she brought the type of energy that everyone builds off of” Wright said. “And even though she leaves a big hole, she always encouraged others to step up.”
As Hennig reflects on her career, she has countless memories of joy and heartbreak on the field. She highlighted the 2015 Toronto Pan American Games and the 2019 Olympic Qualifiers as two events that stand out to her.
“In 2015, to win a bronze medal on home soil was hugely impactful, it was the first time in 15 years that we had medalled at Pan Ams,” she said. “But honestly, the last two games, the Olympic Qualifiers. That was the some of the most fun I’ve had playing hockey. The hockey we played was probably the best hockey we had played during my career. Just the level it was, where we were, the absolute confidence that I had in our team.”
Despite the heartbreaking defeat, Hennig reflects on the 2019 Olympic qualifier as some of the best hockey of her career.
Hennig recently moved back to her hometown of Kelowna and decided this was the right time to hang up the stick and cleats. And although saying goodbye to international hockey is never easy, according to Hennig, it was simply the right time for her. She has received nothing but support from teammates, friends and family.
Dani Hennig retires with 200 caps as the second-most capped woman in Canadian hockey history. Her impact and legacy will be felt long after her retirement. Congratulations Dani, on a tremendous career.