Hayley Wickenheiser is a five-time Olympic medallist and arguably the world’s greatest female ice hockey player.
In a career spanning more than 20 years, it would have been easy for the Saskatchewan-born skater to tire of the game and move on to other challenges.
But not Wickenheiser.
In 2010, she decided to try something new, and lace them up for the University of Calgary Dinos’ women’s hockey team. The result has been nothing short of spectacular.
“I’ve enjoyed the challenge,” said no. 22 in a recent interview.
“It’s a challenge every single year to take a team and try and build them into a national champion,” Wickenheiser said.
“Being in this environment every day and trying to make players around you better is a lot of fun.”
Since her arrival, the Dinos have posted an overall regular season record of 81 wins, 33 losses and nine overtime losses in the CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport).
The women were crowned ‘CIS Champions’ for the first time in the program’s existence in 2012.
Wickenheiser is a kinesiology graduate and currently working on a master’s degree in medical sciences at U of C.
“It’s been a fun ride. Being a student athlete is a great life because you get a chance to train every single day and it’s only a five-minute walk to the rink from the university”, said Wickenheiser.
The 36-year-old, who has drawn comparisons to another Saskatchewan hockey icon, Gordie Howe, is slated to graduate this spring and has plenty of future career options.
“I don’t really see coaching in my future but I may be involved in the game at a higher level, like from a visionary side. I’d like to possibly pursue medical school as well so there are a few different things on the go.”
Dinos’ head coach Danielle Goyette convinced Wickenheiser to come play in Calgary. The two were teammates at Canada’s gold medal victories at the 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympic Games.
“We have a lot of mutual respect. She was my line-mate for many years and probably one of the most skilled players I’ve ever played with,” said Wickenheiser.
“I’ve learned a lot from her. She gets me and I understand where she’s coming from so it all works out.”
Goyette spoke about the fierce competitiveness that Wickenheiser brings to the table.
“Every time she steps on the ice, she wants to win,” said Goyette.
“Hayley’s a winner. She will do anything to win.”
The presence of a two-time Olympic tournament MVP has brought benefits for the Dinos on the ice but it’s Wickenheiser’s impact off the ice that really makes a difference.
“I think the biggest thing that she brings to the team is her preparation as an athlete off the ice, to play at a certain level”, said Goyette.
“Her training is really intense. I think a lot of players have learned that it’s not something you do and take a day off, it’s something you do day after day and that’s what she brings to practice.”
Wickenheiser’s splash in the CIS has resulted in the league attracting more public and media attention. The same could be said for the sport, which is generally overshadowed by men’s hockey.
“I feel like everybody is winning by having Hayley in the league,” said Goyette.
“For me, to be able to keep our best player in Canada, that’s what I had to do. We have a long way to go, but keeping players like that in Canada is going to help us develop women’s hockey to the next level.”
It’s a challenge every single year to take a team and try and build them into a national champion. – Hayley Wickenheiser
With 20 plus years of competitive hockey and counting on her resume (Wickenheiser was named to the Canadian National team when she was 15), ‘the Wick’ says she’s nowhere near retiring from the sport.
“I’ll know I’m done playing when it’s easy to lose and I just want to go home. I still care a lot about losing.”
Wickenheiser’s bio and season stats are posted at the U of C Dinos website.