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Jenny Scrivens checked her phone as the text message arrived. It read: “I have this crazy idea. Call me when you get a minute.”
It was from Dani Rylan, then-New York Riveters general manager and National Women’s Hockey League commissioner.
It was July 2015. A week earlier, Scrivens joined on to the newly formed - and very much a startup - NWHL to work on public relations for the league remotely from her home in Edmonton, Alberta, where she lived with her husband, Ben, who was a goaltender for the Edmonton Oilers at the time.
This ‘crazy idea’ text from Rylan marked the first of several Scrivens would receive as a part of the NWHL.
This time, though, it was about her. The Riveters had one goaltending spot open on their roster. Rylan wanted Scrivens to fill it.
“I kind of laughed it off at first,” said Scrivens in an interview with Puck Daddy. “I haven’t played in six years. I’m not at this level … Yoga and walking my dog does not a hockey player make.”
She told Rylan she’d think about it. She didn’t even mention it to Ben until the next night when it popped into her mind while getting ready for bed, saying, “So, Dani has this crazy idea, and I talked to her on the phone. I have chance to play hockey in Brooklyn next year.’ I laughed … and rolled my eyes.
Ben’s reaction? He said, “Well, why not? You should do it.” She has a pretty good idea of what he’s going to say most times, but that wasn’t the answer she expected from him.
Jenny, 28, and Ben, 29, have been together for 10 years; married for four. They met in their first year at Cornell University, both playing for the university’s hockey programs, and dated all four years of school.
She was supposed to be on a semi-break from her career in public relations so she could spend time with her husband. Goaltending in Brooklyn while he lived in Edmonton was not part of the plan.
For the better part of the previous five years, Scrivens has balanced the roles of partner to a professional athlete and career woman. It’s a path she started on in 2010 when she and Ben graduated from Cornell.
“Ben and I decided mutually that were going to see where his hockey career took him, and if he had the chance to play professional hockey, we were going to go where ever that was. I was 100-percent onboard with the idea. It just meant that I had to sacrifice my career at that point in time.”
She continued to work in various public relations jobs as Ben’s career took them to Toronto, Los Angeles, and Edmonton to that point. Each time he was traded, she had to leave her job, and start over again. This was something she chose and accepted as part of supporting Ben’s hockey career.
However, the opportunity offered by the NWHL was one Jenny could not pass up. Ben saw that, too.
“He’s right: why not do it? I didn’t really have anything holding me back from being able to move to Brooklyn, and take this sort of risk,” said Scrivens. “Yes, in the long run, I had to give up a lot to move. I didn’t get to see Ben nearly as much as I wanted to, but those are things that are sort of short term pains for the long term gain of being able to play professional hockey at this stage.
“I went into this thinking I want to do this for a year … [to] be able to pave the way for other women to come in and play, and tell our kids one day that both their parents played professional hockey. How cool would that be?”
Now after her one year as professional hockey player under her belt, Jenny and Ben now have that awesome story to tell their future children.
Despite having a stellar showing in the playoffs against the eventual Isobel Cup champion Boston Pride, and being offered another contract to play by the Riveters, Jenny has made the decision to retire.
When she made the determination to move to New York, she couldn’t have predicted was the upheaval in her husband’s career as she was pursuing her dream, and the personal growth that would take place in such a short period of time.
“While I was having this great time in my career, my husband was going through the toughest time of his career, and I wasn’t there for it,” said Scrivens. “Not only was I not there for it, I probably couldn’t have been further away. That really weighed on me.”
It weighed on her so much she almost didn’t make it through the season.
“I think it was November when I called Ben and told him I thought I should go home. He had been placed on waivers in October and sent to Edmonton's farm team in Bakersfield, California. It took a few weeks for him to get a work visa, so he wasn't even allowed to dress for games until the visa went through. Then the team told him to get a place to live, which is the telltale sign you'll be staying there for a while.
“While Ben was going through this, I was in New York trying to juggle the PR role with playing hockey again. I was really enjoying it, but I had no spare time and was beginning to feel overwhelmed. I moved to New York with the assumption that Ben would be living in Edmonton with his family and friends and our dog, Ezra. When he moved to Bakersfield, everything changed.
“There were many days when I thought it wasn't worth being away from him anymore.”
Having time to reflect, she realizes now, “Only I can make myself feel guilty for being away. It shouldn’t be dependent on other people commenting or asking me questions … like, ‘Don’t you feel bad?’ or ‘Shouldn’t you be there for your husband?’”
Back in her early 20s when she new to the professional athlete’s spouse role, she openly admits that she held preconceived notions about the other players’ wives and girlfriends who opted to drop any career aspirations of their own for their partner.
“In the beginning … I kind of looked down on some of the other women who made that decision to be in the supportive role, and to plan all of the charity events, and plan all of the baby showers and the bachelorettes that come along with being in those social circles.”
“I found myself in a position where I was judging people on decisions they made, and probably because I felt judged for trying to have a career while my husband was playing hockey.”
(She’s very cognizant of attempting to not use “wife” or “girlfriend” when discussing relationships. As she puts it, “We need to change the way we talk about athletes' partners and spouses if we're truly going to create change and acceptance in sports. Stop saying ‘hockey wives’ and stop saying ‘WAGS,’ because one day there's going to be a man in the "wives room" and I'd be ashamed if we're not prepared for it.”)
Her struggle at this point in her life gave her a new appreciation and understanding of the partners of professional athletes.
“I think this year changed it for me because I went for the far extreme from that, and I thought how demanding it was, and at this point in my life, I needed to take a step back and do what’s right for me and my family; that means, less career, more family.
“Now that I’m able to reflect on it, I think … I haven’t been giving some of these women as much credit as they deserve. I don’t think I ever overtly said anything or did anything, but even if it’s just like my reactions to something. It’s something I want other women to be aware of and that we should support one another not matter which decision they make or how they decide to spend time with their families and their careers because it’s a personal decision, and I’m not one to pass judgment on that.”
Sadly, it feels expected that she’d be questioned for not being there to support her husband. What isn’t often realized is that Ben was going through something similar on his side.
“I get these questions of, ‘You’re not going to be there to prepare Ben’s pregame meal and you’re not going to be there to do his laundry. Who is going to do all of that?’ … and I feel guilty, but at the same time, I know he was getting questions just the same.
“I don’t think he would admit and tell me exactly how much because I think he wanted to sort of shelter me from that and not deliberately make me try and make me feel guilty. I know he was asked the same questions from his teammates and his friends, like ‘Woah, Jenny moved to Brooklyn to play hockey? Are you okay with that? Why did she move? What are you going to do?’”
To Scrivens, her whole experience this past year boiled down to one question: “Can women really have it all (family, career, etc.)?”
“I think there is no right answer as to how much of your life you should dedicate to your career and how much you should dedicate to your family. Some people may choose 100-percent of one and some person may choose 100-percent of the other. There’s no right or wrong, but It’s about finding the balance, finding what’s right for you.
“A lot of the stories I’ve read from women who have found success in their careers is that choosing the right partner has been instrumental in being happy with the balance in their lives. For me, having Ben by my side, and having him, not just by my side, but encouraging me to pursue my own career has made all of the difference in the world … I know a lot of men that Ben has played hockey who, I don’t want to say not approve, but they would certainly not encourage their spouse to move away and pursue a career on their own. They’d much rather have them their by their side. That works, too.
“One of the biggest learning points for me this year is not judging people based on which path they choose because I learned this year that it was really hard to find that balance.”
Much to the chagrin of NWHL and media alike, she’s also decided to move on from her PR position with the league.
Let’s quash the conspiracy theories before they start. This has nothing to do with the ongoing lawsuit against the league. It’s simply time for her to move on to the next challenge, which appears to be figuring out when to start a family.
“Ben and I are talking about ‘when is the ideal time to start a family?’ We’ve come to the conclusion that there is no ideal time. I think we’re going to see what he ends up doing next year. Starting a family is something we want to do in the next year or two.”
Once July 1 hits, Ben will be an unrestricted free agent. Where his career takes him will factor in to when they start trying to get pregnant.
Planning on when to have a child is nothing new to couples, but there is a complexity to the professional athlete and his or her partner when targeting an idea time to get pregnant. As we’ve seen often, it comes down to when the delivery date is; something that’s not lost on Scrivens.
“I was looking at some of Ben’s teammates and other players in the NHL who have a child during playoffs, or have a child during the end of the year, and the team is looking for a playoff run … some of them are scolded for taking a game off to go to fly back home to be with their wife for the birth of their child.”
Scrivens sees it as a vicious cycle, in both professional athletes and regular couples alike.
“If I’m a female in the workforce and I’m looked down upon for deciding to take some time off to raise a family, and men are looked down on for starting a family … I think that’s an attitude, a societal attitude, that needs to change.”
Clearly, Jenny isn’t afraid of speaking out or using her status and influence in the hockey realm to advocate for causes she believes in; same goes for Ben. The couple is comfortable being at the forefront when it comes to bringing awareness to issues such as mental health, LGBT equality, and now adjusting gender norms to reflect the changing social landscape.
She hopes being open about her difficulties and successes over this past year will give other women the courage follow their hearts, even if they have to make short-term sacrifices for the long-term gain.
“From day one, we decided that I would support [Ben] during his hockey career, and then when he's done playing hockey, he will support me during my career. He even talks about being the stay-at-home parent when that day comes.
“I think it's important to have these conversations and to not be afraid to have them publicly. I don't want mislead people to think it's easy trying to find the right balance, but I also want to encourage other women to follow their dreams and find the right role for them.
“I’m not a PR professional, I'm not a hockey player, and I'm not a spouse. I may be all of those things all rolled into one, and the roles certainly change yearly and even daily; but what I'm doing one day compared to the next does not define who I am as a person.
“Making the sacrifice and moving to Brooklyn to play hockey was my way of proving that it could be done. I hope other young women can look at this year, look at the sacrifices players made, and realize they can make their dream jobs happen, too.”
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