Wickenheiser, Hayley

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Hayley Wickenheiser

1978-

Canadian hockey player

Canadian hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser stands likely to become the first female position player in professional men's hockey (three other women have played in goal). In 2002, a few teams in the National Hockey League (NHL) minors realm were expressing tentative interest signing this Olympic gold medallist and her formidable skills as a forward. Maclean's called her "arguably the best player in women's hockey today."

Backyard Rink

Wickenheiser was born in 1978 and grew up in Shaunavon, in the province of Saskatchewan. The oldest of three, she first learned to skate at the age of six when her parents created a backyard ice rink with the help of a garden hose and some two-by-fours. She played her first hockey games on it, and was soon devoted to the sport; her father once woke in the middle of night to find her out in the backyard taking shots. As a youngster, she joined a local team as its sole female participant, at a time when organized hockey for female players was almost nonexistent.

Often there was no available dressing room for her to use, and she was forced to don her gear in boiler rooms or other areas of the rink. Her mother battled to have her enrolled in a hockey school in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, and again, she tested her mettle as the only player of her gender there. When she was in middle school, the Wickenheiser family relocated to Calgary, Alberta, so that she could play on an all-girls' team in the city.

At fifteen, Wickenheiser made the Canadian women's national team, and joined players who were, in some cases, twenty years her senior; they nicknamed her "High-Chair Hayley" because of her youth. With Team Canada she went on to play in winning World Championship contests in both 1994 and 1997. She had also become an outstanding softball player, and made the Canadian junior women's team in 1995. Women's ice hockey became an Olympic medal sport for the first time at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics in Japan, and though Wickenheiser and her Canadian team were heavily favored, they suffered an upset to the United States and went home with the silver medal instead. Her on-ice performance impressed Bobby Clarke, the Philadelphia Flyers president who served as general manager of the men's Olympic hockey team, and he invited her to the Flyers prospects' camp that summer. Wickenheiser realized that her chances for a contract were slim, but she relished the chance to compete against other Olympic-caliber players. "I'm basically just seeing it as a chance to improve my game," she told Maclean's

Chronology

1978 Born August 12 in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan, Canada
1990 Joins Calgary, Alberta, junior girls' team
1993 Wins spot on Canadian women's national team
1994, 1997, 1999-2000 Member of winning team at Women's World Hockey Championships
1998 Attends Philadelphia Flyers prospects camp
1998 Silver medal, women's hockey, 1998 Winter Olympics
1999 Attends Philadelphia Flyers prospects camp
2002 Gold medal, women's hockey, 2002 Winter Olympics

Made Olympic History

Wickenheiser balanced her hockey career with studies at the University of Calgary, where she enrolled in its pre-med program. In 2000, she and Team Canada won another World Championshipthe fourth for herand later that year she qualified for a spot on the Canadian women's softball team and traveled to the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. After Sue Holloway, a cross-country skier at the 1976 Winter Games and 1984 medalist in two kayak events, Wickenheiser was the second Canadian woman ever to compete in both Winter and Summer Olympics. She returned to hockey once again at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, and emerged as her team's leading scorer. This time, they avenged the loss four years earlier and beat Team USA for the gold medal. Wickenheiser scored the second goal of the final contest.

A member of the Edmonton Chimos team in the National Women's Hockey League of Canada, Wickenheiser sought a berth on the Merano Eagles, an Italian team, but just before the contract was inked in the fall of 2002, the Italian Ice Hockey Federation declared her ineligible. She signed a letter of intent to play with the Port Huron Beacons, a minors team in the United Hockey League, but soon reports surfaced that she was poised to join another minor league, the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL). Once known for a rough style of play dramatized in the 1977 Paul Newman film Slap Shot, the ECHL was home to teams like the Cincinnati Cyclones and Richmond Renegades, both of whom expressed interest in making her the first woman skater in the minors. Phil Esposito , co-owner of the Cyclones, had used Manon Rheaume as goalie in 1992 NHL preseason game with Tampa Bay Lightning when he served as the latter team's general manager, and told a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times that Wickenheiser's gender was irrelevant to him. "For me, I don't care if they're black, white, pink, blue, giraffe, hippopotamus," Esposito said in an interview with Damian Cristodero. "If they can skate and can play, I want them."

Ready to Rumble?

Some wondered if Wickenheiser, at five feet, nine inches in height and 170 pounds, could withstand the likely assaults from male players who dwarfed her. Richmond Renegades coach Gord Dineen theorized that Wickenheiser would be happy to prove herself. "I don't think guys would really hold back," he told Eric Duhatschek of the Cincinnati Post. "They're playing for their jobs, too. Plus, being a competitor and knowing what she's done for women's hockey, I don't think she'd want guys holding back either." Even Canada's top female player confessed her doubts about playing in co-ed hockey at the pre-NHL level. She knew the ECHL was a rough arena, and had played against some of its members in the occasional pick-up game. Characterizing it as "a desperate league, full of guys trying to make it," she told the Detroit Free Press the ECHL was "a North American style of hockey and I don't know if it's a style I'm capable of playing." She preferred the European leagues, and her agent was still attempting to find her a spot for her on a German, Austrian, Swiss, or Italian team as a forward. The agent, Wade Arnott, told David Naylor in a report that appeared in the Cincinnati Post that "Europe is still priority No. 1 for Hayley. We believe Europe is the right place for her because itespecially the Italian Leaguehas the right emphasis on skating and skill for her. [But] we haven't ruled anything out."

Even if Wickenheiser never made it to the NHL, she worked to ensure that a younger generation of female players would have the chance. She promotes hockey for women of all ages, and has even founded her own traveling hockey clinic for girls, the "Wick One-on-One Tour."

Awards and Accomplishments

1991 Member of gold medal team, Canada Winter Games
1991 Most Valuable Player in gold medal game, Canada Winter Games
1994, 1997, 1999-2000 Member of gold medal World Championship team
1996, 2001 Member of gold medal team at Four Nations Cup
1997 National champion with the Edmonton Chimos
1998 National champion with the Calgary Oval X-Treme Team
1998 Member of silver medal team at the Winter Olympics in Nagano, 1998
2002 Member of gold medal team at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, 2002

Career Statistics

Yr Event G A PIM
1994 World Championships 0 1 4
1995 Pacific Rim 3 6 8
1996 Pacific Rim 5 4 12
1997 World Championships 4 5 12
1997 Three Nations Cup 3 5 12
1998 Olympic Games 2 6 4
2002 Pre-Olympic Tour 12 11 16

CONTACT INFORMATION

Address: c/o Edmonton Chimos Hockey Club, #205, 8908-99 St., Edmonton, Alberta T6E 3V4, Canada. Phone: (780) 44-CHIMO. Online: http://www.edmontonchimos.com.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Periodicals

"A hockey heroine goes to boys camp." Maclean's (June 8, 1998): 37.

"Canada Beats United States." Cincinnati Post (November 11, 2002): C7.

"Canada Captures Four Nations Cup." Seattle Post-Intelligencer (November 11, 2002): D13.

"Canada Defeats U.S. In Four Nations Cup." New York Times (November 11, 2002): D11.

"Canada rallies, finishes Finns." Detroit News (February 20, 2002): 8.

"Canada's Wickenheiser Is a Cousin of Ex-Blues Star." St Louis Post-Dispatch (February 21, 2002): D1.

Chere, Rich. "Role player is now an international star." Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ) (February 8, 1998): 11.

Chere, Rich. "Team USA relieved to say bye to Sweden." Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ) (February 10, 1998): 56.

Cristodero, Damian. "Espo's at it again." St. Petersburg Times (St. Petersburg, FL) (November 3, 2002): 5C.

Duhatschek, Eric. "ECHL Tough Place for a Lady." Cincinnati Post (October 31, 2002): C1.

Frei, Terry. "Women's gold-medal game: Canada 3, United States 2.

#x201D; Denver Post (February 22, 2002): C1.

"Hayley Wickenheiser: Ready for Men's League?" Detroit Free Press (November 7, 2002).

"Japanese no match for Canadian women's team." Tampa Tribune (February 9, 1998): 10.

Jollimore, Mary. "Double Play: The best female hockey player in the world plays softball too." Time International (September 11, 2000): 50.

Naylor, David. "Cyclones invite woman to try out." Cincinnati Post (October 31, 2002).

Paul, Tony. "Beacons show interest in female player." Times Herald (Port Huron, MI) (October 31, 2002): 1C.

Sketch by Carol Brennan

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