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'A journey': Local woman finds slice of heaven working with Devils

Local native started as an intern with the Barrie Colts and is now helping NHL club raising its profile, working with Martin Brodeur and forging her path
Jill Frechette launches a new jersey with Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur.

As the marketing chief for the ownership organization of the New Jersey Devils, Jillian Frechette leads a busy life in corporate America.

But at home, she makes a point keeping Canada alive for her young children.

“It’s a bit of a journey,” begins Frechette during a phone interview, comparing her upbringing in a small Innisfil enclave of 30 homes to her busy life as the chief marketing officer for Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment leading the campaign to raise the profile of a major NHL franchise and working with the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., along with other brands and venues as she raises a family.

Frechette, the daughter of former Barrie police chief Wayne Frechette and sister of Ryan Frechette, who is now a Barrie firefighter, forged a path through the sports industry from her days as a Barrie Colts intern during its first Ontario Hockey League season to her current post in New Jersey.

After working for Molson and then Labatt in the area and then Nike Canada in Toronto, she found herself in Calgary with her husband, Reid Henry, where she started with Saucony, eventually landing with Calgary Sports and Entertainment, running the company’s marketing and digital production.

“At the time, Calgary was sort of shopping," she recalls, noting they had the Calgary Stampeders (Canadian Football League), the Calgary Hitmen (Western Hockey League) and the Calgary Roughnecks (National Lacrosse League). "So that job set me up well for the position I have today because it’s multiple brands and multiple venues."

Jill Frechette (middle) heads up marketing for the NHL's New Jersey Devils. | Image supplied

At that time, Calgary was interested in welcoming the world back for its second Olympic Games and Frechette moved over to work on the bid project.

And that’s when the New Jersey Devils came calling.

The offer took some consideration, because not only was the idea of being involved in the early stages of an Olympic Games a fascinating prospect, the whole reason Frechette and her husband were in Calgary was for his career.

That was all about to change.

“It was a really hard decision for me. I ultimately decided to roll the dice with hockey because I wanted to come back to hockey. But it was a hard, hard decision because I’m a lover of sport," she says.

It was the end of 2018, the couple had just had their second child and they made the move to New Jersey, pursuing her career opportunity. In the end, Calgary’s Olympic bid failed as Milan and Cortina d'Amprezzo, Italy set to host the 2026 Winter Olympics.

Frechette now leads a team of close to 50 full-timers spread across multiple departments focusing largely on the Devils and branding, designing the team’s uniforms and working closely with hockey operations on retail products.

A highlight was designing the 2021 black jersey, the club’s third, with former Devils goalie and Hockey Hall of Fame member Martin Brodeur.

But pushing New Jersey's NHL team to the top of the entertainment heap in the cluttered market that includes so many New York City sports and entertainment attractions is an important challenge.

Frechette points out that there are multiple professional sports teams that both practise and play on the New Jersey side of the state line, but call themselves "New York," including the New York Jets, the New York Giants, the New York Red Bulls and Gotham FC.

New York also has the Rangers and the Islanders in the NHL, the Mets and the Yankees in Major League Baseball, the Knicks in the National Basketball Association. And then there’s also Broadway.

“The competition is intense,” explains Frechette, quickly adding that the Devils are the only professional sports team in New Jersey that proudly displays the state on their jersey. “So folks in this market have a lot of different things to think about when it comes to how they might do on a weekend and how they may spend their income on a sports or entertainment experience.

“We’ve really worked hard at being the underdog that knows they’re the underdog," she says. 

Her job of evolving the brand includes a variety of tactics and approaches. A brand identity campaign, Made in Jersey, the third jersey – which has become its best-selling jersey and along with a heavy investment into content strategy, which includes a content studio, to help share the Devils’ stories, becoming “prolific story tellers that refuse to be quiet."

When she first arrived, Frechette says the organization was lagging in its engagement on social-media platforms and now ranks in the top five, as measured by the NHL.

Her involvement in hockey extends beyond the NHL, however. She was recently involved in launching a recreational league for girls, called the Jersey Girls’ Hockey Club.

Although it’s been more than five years since she’s made the move to the United States, Frechette finds a lengthy list of differences stateside, including the political climate.

“There’s things that I miss and there’s things I refuse to give up on. I watch The National (on CBC) every night and read the Globe and Mail every morning. As much as I’ve acclimatized to living in a new country, there are certain things I hold near and dear,” she says.

And at home, the kids know the words to both national anthems.

“We try to keep a lot of Canadian things present. We have gear under the tree from Roots. We make sure we spend a good amount of time in Canada in the summer months so they can stay acquainted with their friends. And we always have some fun Canadian stuff happening in our house just to keep all of that alive.”


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About the Author: Marg. Bruineman

Marg. Bruineman is an award-winning journalist who focuses on human interest stories
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