Women’s hockey pioneer and Canadian treasure Hayley Wickenheiser will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday.
Wickenheiser is the Canadian women’s program’s all-time leading scorer and debuted on the national team in 1994 when she was only 15. The 41-year-old, originally from Shaunavon, Sask., played on boys’ teams growing up in Calgary, often tucking her hair under her helmet so she didn’t stand out. On Saturdays, she would often go practice outside during intermissions while watching Hockey Night in Canada.
“I remember having a lot of anxiety going to the rink,” Wickenheiser told CBC News. “I didn’t want to deal with people going, ‘Oh, there’s the girl.’”
Despite the struggles, every moment was worth it, Wickenheiser shared.
“I was talking to my sister and we were going through some things I went through in minor hockey,” Wickenheiser said in a different interview with the Canadian Press. “A lot of good memories that have come back.
“Just be in this company is pretty cool.”
In her trail-blazing 23-year career playing for Canada, Wickenheiser scored 168 goals and 379 points in 276 games to help secure four straight Olympic gold medals (2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014), as well as seven world championships, making herself a household name. She pulled off the 2006 gold with a fractured elbow and the 2014 gold with a broken foot.
She also pulled in an additional Olympic silver medal in 1998 in her first Olympics and the first where women’s hockey was included, and also has six silver world championship medals.
She was the captain of national teams that won Olympic gold in 2010, as well as world titles in 2007 and 2012.
Wickenheiser also had a few brief stints playing professionally on men’s teams in Europe, Sportsnet reported. She played on a Finnish team for two seasons from 2002-2004, and played on a Swedish team for the 2008-2009 season.
Her teammate and fellow hall-of-famer Danielle Goyette credits Wickenheiser for moving the women’s game forward and making it a lot more physical.
“She was a power forward with a great shot,” Goyette told CBC. “She could put the puck in the net and make plays, but, at the same time, she was so physical. She was not afraid to go in the corner, get the puck and do something with it.”
Outside the realm of hockey, she also represented Canada in softball at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.
Wickenheiser, who is currently employed as an assistant director of player development for the Toronto Maple Leafs, is studying at the University of Calgary to become a doctor.
“It is closure in some way,” Wickenheiser said. “I went from playing to medical school to working with the Leafs. I haven’t really had a moment to take a breath since I retired.
“This is going to be probably that moment.”
In fact, she’s so busy that she missed the phone call telling her she’d been inducted into the Hall of Fame — she was in the middle of a code blue simulation and practicing resuscitating someone in cardiac arrest.
As a child, along with her dream of winning a Stanley Cup with the Edmonton Oilers, she always wanted to go to Harvard Medical School. She told NHL.com that she was inspired after a neighbourhood girl got injured and she visited the hospital every day to watch her be treated.
“It’s always sort of since then just really been something I thought I would see myself doing outside of being involved with hockey. It’s something I could find that was close to what hockey would be like,” Wickenheiser told the website.
Her influence on the sport is undeniable. Along with her post-retirement work with the Maple Leafs, the annual Canadian Tire Wickenheiser World Female Hockey Festival — or WickFest — brings thousands of mini-Wickenheisers to Calgary who dream of growing up to be just like her. The festival, now in its 10th year, is an incredibly thorough experience, that gives attendees professional guidance and support and also guarantees them four games. Wickenheiser has become the role model to girls who didn’t exist when she was growing up.
“When I was growing up, I didn’t see it — I didn’t have any role models. I didn’t know any other girls that played hockey until the national team in 1990. Now, little girls are watching the Olympics and they see lots of players they can try to be,” Wickenheiser told the Calgary Sun.
“And I do think that’s powerful and that it does matter and makes a difference.”
Wickenheiser’s hard work to get women’s hockey the attention it deserves has certainly paid off. Girls no longer need to play on boys’ teams, and there’s support there that didn’t exist when she was younger, the superstar said.
“When you see a little girl walking into a rink with a bag and a stick, nobody is looking twice,” she told the newspaper. “When I was playing, I cut my hair really short and wanted to run into the bathroom at the rink as fast as possible so no one would know who the girl was because I didn’t want to face all the harassment… It’s come that far in one generation.”
Wickenheiser will be only the seventh woman to be inducted into the hall. The first women — American Cammi Grenato and Canadian Angela James — were only added to its ranks in 2010, when the rules changed to give women a specific sub-category. Prior to the change, women theoretically could have still made the hall, but the lack of professional opportunities meant they were often passed over in favour of men with more impressive careers.
Players, builders and on-ice officials can all be inducted, but all inductees must be chosen and voted on by an 18-person selection committee that includes current members of the hall and media personalities. Every year, there can be four male players, two female players, and two combined inductees in the builders and on-ice officials categories. All inductees, excluding builders, must have been retired for at least three years to be eligible — this is the first year Wickenheiser has been eligible, as she retired in 2017.
Other inductees this year include players Guy Carbonneau, Sergei Zubov, Vaclav Nedomansky, and builders Jim Rutherford and Jerry York.
With a file from the Canadian Press
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