In March 2021, Castleton University hockey player Jahwara Rennalls was aimlessly reading through a Jamaican newsletter when he found a section that said, “if you play hockey fill out this information form.”
“Oh, cool let me do that,” said Rennalls, recalling the moment.
And before he knew it, Rennalls was contacted by the player representative of the Team Jamaica hockey team. Rennalls got told about the team’s upcoming tournament in Florida and got offered a spot on the team for it.
After that conversation, Rennalls was under the impression that he would have to pay for a flight down to Florida, where team Jamaica’s upcoming tournament was located.
But that wasn’t the case.
Team Jamaica covered everything and seven months later, Rennalls was on a flight to Florida to represent the country of Jamaica for ice hockey.
Rennalls, who is of Canadian and Jamaican descent, is currently in his senior season at Castleton University. His father was born and raised in Jamaica, which allows him to be eligible to play for team Jamaica.
Rennalls who resides in Ottawa, Ontario is now part of the process to bring Jamaica back to the Winter Olympics. As he laces up his skates while listening to his pre-game playlist that consists of just hitting the shuffle button, he knows the ultimate goal for team Jamaica and their future.
“It was an exciting experience. I was more excited to play for a bigger purpose, playing for a country rather than just playing on a smaller scale. The media attention is what excited me most. They told us that it wouldn’t be a small thing, it is going to be a big deal not only for the hockey community but for the country of Jamaica,” he said.
“It was great seeing Jahwara representing our heritage playing for team Jamaica. Watching him skate across the ice wearing the flag. It made us unbelievably proud,” said Julia Rennalls, sister of Jahwara.
Rennalls is seen as a leader on the Castleton men’s hockey team and is currently an alternate captain. Team members were not shocked when they heard that he was selected to represent team Jamaica.
“He’s a really good, down-to-earth person. He’s a very hard-working individual. I think it was very well deserved. He’s a very good hockey player and conscientious student so him reaching those goals wasn’t very surprising to me,” said senior teammate Kyle Alaverdy.
Rennalls and team Jamaica are looking for a way to see their flag in the stands of the winter Olympics rather than a rink in Florida.
“The atmosphere at the games was crazy. It was more like a soccer environment with every country having their flag up in the stands with whistles and everything. It almost felt more like a college football atmosphere or a soccer atmosphere than a hockey atmosphere,” Rennalls said.
Warmups. Not playing. Shadowboxing in front of the other team. Lacing up the skates knowing you aren’t playing just to intimidate the other team. This was the coach of team Jamaica, Chris Stewart, well when he played in the National Hockey League.
Unlike Stewart’s pre-game routine, Rennalls’ pre-game routine is just as modest as he is.
“Nothing crazy,” described Rennalls.
Normally he will eat exactly four-and-a-half hours before a game and go for a walk. He then would show up to the rink two-and a-half hours before puck drop.
“My only superstition is I have to eat sour Jujubes before on-ice warmup,” he said.
Rennalls spoke about how much fun it was playing for Stewart.
“You can tell how much he loves the game of hockey and his energy is contagious. He comes to the rink with a huge smile on his face and he’s just pumping up the boys on the bench,” Rennalls said of his team Jamaica coach.
Stewart’s parents are of Jamaican descent, and he is on the International Federation’s Hockey Diversity Program, which has the responsibility of spreading the game of hockey. Unfortunately, team Jamaica was unable to defend the LATAM Cup this year but not because they lost, because they were too good.
The LATAM Cup organizers thought it would be best for Rennalls and team Jamaica to only play six exhibition games, of which they won all of them and outscored opponents a whopping 59-7 with two games being shutout wins.
Rennalls coach at Castleton also speaks highly of his player who is getting national exposure.
“I wasn’t surprised at all. Jay is the type of player that I’m sure any country would want representing them, not just the type of player but the type of human. He’s a guy I would want on any team and no surprise with Jamaica and Jay’s family heritage that they decided to include Jay on their roster and hopefully he is still playing in a few years when they make their Olympic push,” head coach Kyle Richards said.
Teammates say Rennalls is a down to earth human who holds himself to a standard and represents not only Castleton, but Jamaica, where his father’s roots are.
The green, yellow and black flag that Rennalls represents when he put on the team Jamaica jersey is an extension of himself as a person.
He is playing for a bigger cause than just hockey.
He is playing to help move the country of Jamaica to one day bring sports back to the Winter Olympics and to further spread the game of ice hockey around the world.
“My family was excited. Jamaica has never really done anything for the Winter Olympics besides bobsled like 20 years ago, so I think they were more excited that Jamaica would be in the Winter Olympics one day again and we are working towards that,” he said.