After a career that spanned 23 years between representing Canada and the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, Canadian centreman Hayley Wickenheiser announced her retirement in 2017. For many, the 41-year-old Olympian represents things that are bigger than the game on its own.
Hayley Wickenheiser, a Toronto development coach, is so highly thought of around the country to the point where she is regarded as one of the best female hockey players in the world. Of course this is for good reasoning with the status she has come to deserve, having led her team to four gold medals, just one of many record breaking achievements.
Wickenheiser today is Canada’s all-time leader in international goals and with six silver medals to add to her resume, the Saskatchewan native is widely considered the greatest female hockey player of all time.
Entering the hall on Monday evening, Hayley Wickenheiser became only the seventh women granted entry with her induction. In doing so, she joins Cammi Granato, Angela James, Geraldine Heaney, Angela Ruggiero, Jayna Hefford and Danielle Goyette who was both her teammate and head coach with Team Canada.
Speaking of Team Canada and the widespread impact of Hayley Wickenheiser, the doctor in training won 13 World Championships in addition to her four Olympic gold medals. It’s because of achievements like this that Wickenheiser finds herself being recognized, breaking not only the barrier for gender, but countless others along the way. In 2017, the Canadian legend officially retired from the game of hockey, this leaving her as the all-time leading scorer with 168 goals for Team Canada.
As well, the Canadian centreman added 211 assists in 276 games, these numbers going alongside four Olympic gold medals and seven world championship titles as well. Wickenheiser’s career, which spanned a total of 23 years, allowed her to record 51 Olympic points while also putting her in top 10 for goal scorers. Today, Hayley has reached new heights, both in her personal life and her hockey life as she is the current Assistant Director of Player Development for the Toronto Maple Leafs. As if this wasn’t enough, she is also pursuing a career as a physician in emergency medicine.
A matter of fact, she is so invested that she even missed Lanny McDonald’s phone call while taking part in a code blue simulation. This just gives you an idea of the player and person that Wickenheiser is as an individual who is so dedicated to their craft that she would make sure nothing got in her way to achieve it. This would be so much so that she rose to the top in the women’s game, allowing the Canada national team member to break a barrier before even getting started.
Speaking of which, after breaking in with Hockey Canada in 1994, Hayley became the first woman to play full-time professional hockey in a position other than goalie. Growing up, the native of Shaunavon connected early with Angela James, another landmark in the women’s game who was later inducted as the sport’s first female. Since then, a lot has changed, including the acceptance for female hockey players, however, as Hayley stated, it came with many hardships, even at 15 right from the get-go.
While Wickenheiser was last to speak at the Hall of Fame ceremony on Monday, it was certainly done for good reason, recounting the stories from her days in the game. In speaking further to what she endured as a teenaged kid in her early days, Wickenheiser reflected on hockey school in Regina where things weren’t easy by any means. While allowed in and taking part where she could, it wasn’t sunshine and rainbows at all times as Hayley as she was not given a space to sleep, being forced to sleep in an ushers closet. As Wickenheiser started excelling, this would be just the start of her various challenges.
As time went on and her game continued growing, Hayley’s health started declining as she developed an ulcer due to her constant harassment from men who did not approve of her being in school with them. More specifically, they were angry that she had stolen the spotlight from them with her performance. Born and raised in a small town in Saskatchewan, Wickenheiser grew up an Edmonton Oilers fan, dreaming of playing in the National Hockey League and idolizing Mark Messier for his skill as a young girl. While it was the truth of her hockey being, it was also a conflict of interest given that she was living in Calgary Flames territory after moving at 12-years-old.
With social norms back then seeing ice hockey being a male dominated sport, equality was choppy to the point where women were even forced to take part in men’s leagues. Charline Labonté, her Team Canada teammate, was one of those athletes, playing in the QMJHL, though she wasn’t alone as her Olympian counterpart saw time taking part in both Sweden and Finland. This of course was closer to the end of her illustrious career. Wickenheiser would call it quits after one season with the Calgary Inferno.
Once officially retired, the Clarkson Cup champion would initiate “Wickfest”, also known as the Canadian Tire Wickenheiser World Female Hockey Festival. The event, launched in 2010, is an annual festival showcasing women and girls hockey found across the country. As a result of the women’s hockey clinic, her mother stepped up and become an advocate, joining in the fight for women’s hockey as her parents helped start girl’s hockey leagues to help influence the youth. With Hayley now tackling medical, it’s not the same reality her parents were faced with as both were teachers who played pivotal roles as they encouraged her as opposed to pulling her. Again, this was at a time when it wasn’t common for girls to be playing hockey. Having driven her from practice to practice, her parents roles in the game were both pivotal, something she went on to address on Monday in hopes that her induction would make up for it all.
Hayley is obviously looked up to for inspiring fans on the ice and off, let alone the successes she’s endured ever since which only proved if you can see it, you can be it. With regards to the path she took to get involved in the game as she is, Wickenheiser said in her speech on Monday, “It was not a common thing as a little girl to want to play hockey in the small town where I came from. But my mom and dad believed that a girl could do anything that a boy could.”
Obviously that’s a relevant topic now following the CWHL’s closure in May which has since left 200 women sitting out this season in hopes of a viable and sustainable league. This was something Wickenheiser was constantly asked about during the weekend and after receiving her ring on Friday, the seven-time world champion told the scrum of media, “I don’t know. That’s a great question. I always said, you know, it’s coming, it’s coming. Now I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. I think the only way forward for the women’s game is probably with the NHL’s involvement. I know they have a plan, I’m not quite fully understanding why Garry and the NHL don’t want to step up and do it. I know they don’t want to be seen to be breaking up one league or the other, but I think the women deserve it and the game demands it and there’s a market for it. I don’t think either of the leagues currently in existence can play, move forward and you see that and the reason why is the best players in the world don’t wanna play in those leagues, so they know what’s going on, so I hope that’ll be the case, but your guess is as good as mine.”
While the PWHPA is only a temporary fix for the sport, it also means that the women’s game boycott is still holding steady with the next chapter unknown. Many of the players who formed the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association have previously played in the NWHL, but did not find it was providing them with a place to call home. Following the report just a few weeks back and what needs to happen for the game moving forwards, Wickenheiser said while addressing the topic, “It’s not the NHL that’s holding professional women’s hockey back, it’s the current league that exists (the NWHL) that, quite frankly, won’t fold and needs to fold for the right reasons.”
As part of Hall of Fame Weekend, a legends classic is always played in Toronto and after the game which saw Team Lidstrom defeat Team Sundin at Scotiabank Arena, The Puck Authority caught up with Hayley Wickenheiser to further address where the women’s game currently stands. With regards to that, the current medical student said, “Yeah, I think the game has come a long ways, it’s got a long ways to go still. It’s slower than I would have hoped, but we need the NHL to step up and be involved and they know that and everyone in the game knows it, so I hope that that’s what will happen.”
Amongst those playing on Sunday were Marie-Philip Poulin and Jayna Hefford and when asked about the conversations the three of them have had about the game’s development, Wickenheiser said, “Yeah, we’ve been talking about it a little bit today and everyone’s sort of in the same boat, we don’t really know what’s gonna happen, we hope so, but it’s a long way to go, so those guys will move the game forward and, you know, for Poulin, she’ll have pro league to play in I hope in the next few years and that would be great for all these little girls who came to watch today.”
Speaking of Poulin, she is just one of many sitting out this season and while she is a member of Hockey Canada, the regular playing time is still well accounted for. With that being said, she recently spoke with CBC Sports and when asked by Jamie Strashin about the status of the women’s game, the former Les Canadiennes captain said, “Right now we are starting at the bottom; nothing great is built in a year. We don’t want what the NHL has. Nobody is saying that. But look at men’s minor league hockey. They play full time and make a living doing what they love to do. That is what we are trying to do right now. There is light, [but] it might be further away than we think.”
Poulin and the new Hall of Famer were not the only ones to express these feelings as The Puck Authority caught up with Jayna Hefford who was on the same page with her former teammate. With that being said, Hefford was asked about the PWHPA and when discussing the collaborative effort that these girls are making to help grow the game, she said, “Yeah, I think it’s inspirational, it’s, you know, the players really stood up in a time of uncertainty and they’re clearly stating what they believe is right for the sport and so certainly happy to take their lead and push this forward and really build the momentum around the women’s game and awareness around the need for a truly professional league.”
As the organization continues the Dream Gap Tour, dates have been booked in a number of cities, these including Calgary, Toronto and Minnesota with a one-game stop in Montreal as well. These dates, however, are not possible without the support of their partners and sponsors and with Budweiser now leading the charge, Hefford said with regards to the business side, “Yeah, we have a really strong partner profile and it goes to show that there’s a lot of people that are behind the cause and wanna see the women’s game grow and they wanna see it at a professional level and the partners we’re working with are all very much wanna be apart of the solution. It’s more than just a sponsorship or put a logo up. They’re really, Budweiser showed, you know, they’re behind this and they’re creating all this content to help tell our message to people.”
While it’s the solution that everyone is waiting for, Hayley Wickenheiser is just one of many and when discussing the current standstill and momentum they have going right now, the Canadian hockey star said when asked about her voice entering the hall and what impact that might have, “Well, I think you just gotta keep working. I mean, This game is not gonna forward if people just, if it didn’t work out, I guess we tried. I tried, the women tried before me for a long time. You know, a whole career of, I think everyday I played, I had to prove something for women’s hockey. it’s not gonna change anytime soon, but I think there’s power in struggle in numbers and with all the women standing together, so my advice would be get all the players in the world in one camp and hold out until it happens. That’s what you have to do to make progress.”
Just last year, Wickenheiser received a fairly similar honour as she was inducted, for her international accomplishments, into the IIHF Hall of Fame. The call she received would come from Rene Fasel who was on-hand on Monday. As many have constantly said, Wickenheiser’s career was one of legends and it was illustrious and full of achievements. From the moment she first hit the ice, Wickenheiser stood out as a special talent, this being the case until 2017 when her historic career came to a close. Soon after, the decorated Olympian would become the face of the women’s game in Canada.
While Cassie Campbell and Jayna Hefford were two of many to make appearances for Canada, it was Wickenheiser who stole the spotlight with her raw set of skills and dedication. Now being regarded as one of the best female hockey players in the world, Jayna Hefford said of the title to Kristina Rutherford of Sportsnet on Tuesday, “That’s not an easy thing to do, but I think that’s where her mark was made in that she was the face and she was always just leading the way for those who weren’t necessarily right in the sport. She was leading it in the sport, but outside the sport, she was the one people knew. I think it’s just that she was the face of the game for so long, and she carried that with her for most of her career.”
While Jayna Hefford and Angela James were in attendance at the Monday night induction, so was Brian Burke who’s a Sportsnet analyst and former Calgary Flames president. Burke was on the red carpet which took place two hours prior and when speaking in a scrum of media, the Sportsnet panelist said about Wickenheiser, “I think Hayley is the greatest women’s hockey player ever. She’s walking in and neither shoulder’s going to touch either side of the door frame. I mean, next thing I’m going to see her walking on the moon. Seriously, don’t put it past Hayley Wickenheiser to become an astronaut.”
With Wickenheiser a current medical student while developing the game’s future in Toronto, it would certainly be no surprise as the IOC member reaches for the stars. With the media and fans alike, they wouldn’t have it be any other way. Wickenheiser, a Hockey Canada member, is currently studying at the University of Calgary.
For the outreach she has had on the game, the doctor in training is considered an ambassador and when speaking about the two-time Olympic MVP after the legends game, Hefford said about the former centreman, “Yeah, I mean, Hayley’s been the face of, you know, women’s hockey in Canada for a number of years and so she’s an important figure for us and, you know, her voice and her recognition this week is big and any time a woman goes into the Hall of Fame, I think it’s an opportunity to bring the women’s game to the forefront to talk about it and for us, that’s what we need. We need people, you know, looking at the game, looking at ways that we’re gonna continue to grow the game and help it succeed.”
When asked about Wickenheiser’s induction, Sammi-Jo Small, her former teammate, said, “It probably never even crossed her mind. Awards? She doesn’t stop to wait for anything like that.” For everything Wickenheiser accomplished, it wasn’t solely for the recognition. She always did what she felt she had to and changed the game, meanwhile, making history. For the foundation she laid along the way, Wickenheiser was awarded the Order of Canada from David Johnston. The honour of course having come on the hands of her achievements as a professional athlete. As well, she received the title for her contributions to the growth of women’s hockey. It all started after the quadruple Olympic gold medalist became the first woman to score a goal in a professional men’s league.
Atop the list of her successes, Wickenheiser was recognized by Ryerson in Toronto, receiving an honorary doctorate of laws just one year after completing her degree. However, given the motivation and drive Wickenheiser lives by, kinesiology was far from her finish line. Of course, these aspirations are time consuming, spending many days and many hours working, but with thanks to the support system behind her, there’s nothing she’s put her mind to she hasn’t been able to do. Even as a mother, she wasn’t held back from achieving greatness. When speaking more about this at the Hall of Fame induction on Monday, the Canadian legend put the evening away, giving thanks to the sport that “has given me everything that I have in my life.”
On a new path that much like hockey, involves both pressure and a similar energy, Wickenheiser said of the new journey she’s embarking on, “The road is just a little bit easier.” At the legends classic game on Sunday, The Puck Authority spoke with Penguins GM Jim Rutherford, who when asked about his fellow inductee and who she is as a player and person, said, “She’s such a good player, but more importantly, I got to know her this weekend and she’s a wonderful person.”
As always, the choice is difficult amongst the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee and chairman Lanny McDonald was no exception, only proving that when he said, “First of all, it’s confidential. We don’t tell anyone who was up [for discussion], but they are some of the greatest discussions that go on for days as we try to make sure we get the right people in the hall.”
Speaking of which, Lanny McDonald spoke with The Puck Authority during the legends classic game on Sunday and when asked about the pride and honour of bringing in yet another star-studded class, the native of Hanna, Alberta and former NHL executive said, “You know what, they’re richly deserving of the honour and it’s so much fun every year. All the inductees are different. They come from different backgrounds, but it is so much fun to be able to be apart of it and honoured to have them here this weekend.”
This can certainly be said for Wickenheiser who originally hails from Western Canada, not only setting the path for the women’s game, but continuing to be involved where she can be. As one of the hall’s six new members, Hayley Wickenheiser takes the next step forward as her plaque is unveiled before her, being raised in the shrine and bestowing her upon history. Hayley Wickenheiser is one of the greats and followed her heart from an early age, making a childhood dream a reality and for that, finds herself being celebrated. If you can see it, you can be it and Hayley Wickenheiser did just that and for the blood, sweat and tears she provided, the philanthropist will be honoured for generations to come ahead.
As for those before her which includes Angela Ruggiero, Hayley Wickenheiser aspired to greatness, taking her game to the highest level. When speaking about those who she watched and those she played with in the hall as well, Wickenheiser concluded her speech in saying, “Those women gave up their careers, they fought for relevance and instead of asking what the game could give them, they asked what they could give the game and they changed my life forever…” It’s for that reason that Wickenheiser was selected as she enters the hall in grand style. Congratulations, Hayley on a well deserved honour and tremendous career.