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Olympic gold medalist hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser . (Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Olympic gold medalist hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser . (Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Wickenheiser to help IIHF institute mentoring program Add to ...

The International Ice Hockey Federation is ready to announce its biggest initiative yet to help improve the level of women's hockey internationally, and it has called on Canada's Hayley Wickenheiser to assume a key role.

The IIHF is expected to release on Thursday the details of its mentoring program, which will pair some of the world's most successful women's hockey coaches and athletes with countries who are struggling to compete.

World champions and Olympic medalists from the top four women's hockey nations - Canada, the United States, Sweden and Finland - will share training advice and coaching assistance to women's national team programs in countries ranked five through 14 for two and a half years leading up to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

Wickenheiser, a four-time Canadian Olympic medalist who is largely recognized as the most accomplished female hockey player in the world, is expected to be taking on a co-ordinating role in the project rather than mentoring one specific nation.

Several prominent Canadian Olympic medalists are expected to be on the list of mentors and coaches. China, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Kazakhstan, Norway, Russia, Slovakia and Switzerland are the countries that will receive the mentoring, the countries most likely to qualify for the 2014 Games.

The program is one element of the $2.1-million women's hockey improvement project that the IIHF kick-started after lopsided scores in the women's competition once again stole headlines at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

There's a large gap in calibre of play between Canada, the United States, and the next two teams, Sweden and Finland, then another huge gap between them and the next group of teams.

The IIHF hired Edmonton native Tanya Foley as its first manager of women's hockey in late 2010 after a stern warning at the Vancouver Olympics by International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge that the sport could be dropped from the Winter Games if parity doesn't improve.

"Everyone agrees [there is a discrepancy]" Rogge said at the Vancouver Games. "This may be the investment period for women's ice hockey. I would personally give them more time to grow but there must be a period of improvement. We cannot continue without improvement."

Many of the program's mentors are expected to gather in Toronto later this month for meetings before the program kicks off on July 1.

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