It’s a secret Hayley Wickenheiser could no longer hide.
The Canadian women’s hockey star helped Canada win gold at the Sochi Olympics despite playing with a broken foot.
The 35-year-old native of Shaunavon, Sask., was sporting a walking boot on her left foot at the Hockey Hall of Fame on Tuesday, where she was a guest speaker at the second annual Gatorade High Performance Hockey Summit.
“I’ve had a broken foot for about a year now so I’m trying to fix it,” Wickenheiser said. “I’m wearing this boot so I can avoid having that surgery, hopefully.
“I knew it was broken at the time (of Olympics), we just found out it was a little more serious break than we thought. It was just managing the pain.”
Wickenheiser did a masterful job of hiding the injury. There was never a hint or mention of it prior to the Sochi Games or even after Canada’s dramatic come-from-behind 3-2 overtime victory over the U.S. in the gold medal game.
But in an Olympic year Wickenheiser simply didn’t have the luxury of time to rest her foot, so she worked around it. With the national team’s season over, she’s had her foot in the boot for the last two weeks, with six more to go.
“After the Olympics . . . it’s kind of perfect timing to rest the foot and just be able to get healthy again,” she said. “I spent a lot of time on the bike versus running and did some work around trying to stabilize the foot.
“My medical team was really good with treatments to keep the swelling down. I just did a lot of things on one leg and tried to minimize the pounding on my foot in order to be able to get through the games. Now I’ve had the chance to see where the damage is and with a couple of months rest I should be fine. I wasn’t able to rest it before.”
This isn’t the first time Wickenheiser has endured pain. She played in the 2006 Olympics with a broken wrist but was still the tournament’s top scorer and MVP.
In 2008, Sports Illustrated included Wickenheiser on its list of the 25 toughest athletes.
Ironically, skating wasn’t painful for Wickenheiser because of the support the skate boot provided her injured foot.
“It wasn’t too bad,” she said. “But the running and training we had to adjust.”
Wickenheiser had two goals and three assists in five games at Sochi but played a huge role in Canada’s overtime victory in the gold medal game. Wickenheiser had a breakaway in the extra session but was taken down by American Hilary Knight.
Instead of granting Wickenheiser a penalty shot, British referee Joy Tottman gave Knight a minor penalty. Marie-Philip Poulin, who forced overtime by scoring with 55 seconds remaining in regulation, had the power-play winner to give Canada its stirring comeback victory and fourth straight Olympic women’s hockey crown.
“It was a dramatic finish, probably one for the ages and something Canadians will never forget,” Wickenheiser said. “I won’t forget.
“It might’ve been the defining moment of the Games this go-around from what everybody has been telling me. When you step back and hear the stories about how it impacted Canada, it really was one for the ages.”
The Olympic gold medal capped a tumultuous period for the Canadian team, which entered the Sochi Games with a new coach — Kevin Dineen took over in December after Dan Church resigned — and having lost four pre-tournament games to the rival Americans.
“It was a lot of adversity,” Wickenheiser said. “Our theme changed from, ‘Dig a little deeper,’ to ‘Unity and adversity.’ I think that sums it up.
“We had a lot of things to overcome as a team and I think the reason behind our success was we had resiliency and we had a lot of preparation leading up to that which gave us the opportunity to come back in that final game. We were mentally tougher than our opponent.”
Three days later, the Canadian men capped a hockey sweep, downing Sweden 3-0 in a gold-medal game that had nowhere the drama or intrigue of the women’s finale.
“I think there’s no doubt we’re the best in the world in men’s and women’s hockey,” Wickenheiser said. “People say, ‘The men’s was boring,’ but it was boring (because) they were so good and so prepared and they played unselfishly unlike other countries with superstars so they found a way to do it.
“I think that’s really the defining mark of Canadian hockey.”
And call Wickenheiser, Canada’s flag-bearer at the opening ceremony in Sochi, a fan of hockey being played on the larger international ice surface.
“I love it,” she said. “For me, I’d love to see the NHL on the bigger surface.
“I think it would be amazing, I think it would be better hockey. There’s the talk that the trap would be easier to play on the big surface but I don’t think so. I think it allows skill and speed to flourish.”
Wickenheiser has won five Olympic medals over her illustrious career (the other being silver from the ‘98 Nagano Games). She’d like a shot at another while again shouldering the heavy weight of expectation Canadians have for their hockey players when on the international stage.
“I think it’s fair,” Wickenheiser said of Canadians’ expectations. “We always say pressure is a privilege and you have an opportunity to win a gold medal because people think you can.
“I’d rather have that expectation than someone not believing in you or the country not expecting the best. We view it that we go to win gold medals and we know Canada expects that. It’s fun to have that, you don’t want it any other way, really, as an athlete.”
However, Wickenheiser, who last month was elected to the International Olympic Committee’s athlete commission, added at this stage of her career she’s taking it one year at a time.
“I’ll probably go year by year, starting with next year’s world championship,” she said. “I still love to play, I think I can still play at a high level and be the player I want to be so until I can’t do that anymore I’ll keep playing.
“I love what I do for a living. Being an athlete is definitely the greatest thing about what I do. I don’t know if there’s anything I’ll find after sport that will mimic what being an athlete is so you have to enjoy it while it lasts and try to remember you may never have these times again in your life.”