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Hayley Wickenheiser.Photo illustration The Globe and Mail. Source photo Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press/The Canadian Press

Sold-out crowds, tightly contested games, innovative new rules. The first few weeks of the fledgling Professional Women’s Hockey League have certainly been a revelation.

But while it’s provided a showcase for the world’s best women players, arguably the finest this country has produced has yet to make it to a game. Unsurprisingly, she hasn’t had time.

Between her duties as a doctor at Toronto Western Hospital and her other high-pressure role as assistant general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Hayley Wickenheiser doesn’t have a lot of minutes to spare.

“I haven’t watched much to be honest, just because of my schedule,” she said earlier this week. “It’s great to see the start and the momentum. I think they do have fairly big financial backing so they’re going to need five or six years to really solidify themselves as a league and as a product, but I think it seems like they’re on the right track right now.”

As someone who carved out a career in a very tumultuous era of women’s hockey, playing in nearly a half-dozen women’s leagues in this country before heading to Finland to play in a men’s league, Wickenheiser says she would have loved to have had the opportunity to play in the PWHL.

However, the Canadian women’s national team’s record point scorer – and the first female to play full-time professional men’s hockey in a position other than goalie – says she’s happy that young girls now have licence to dream of a pro career without having to break barriers to do it. The next generation of hockey players is important to Wickenheiser, and despite all her commitments, she also finds time in her hectic schedule to help promote the Kruger Big Assist program, which provides financial assistance to make hockey more accessible to Canadian kids.


You’re always busy, always on the go. If you weren’t doing what you are doing, what would you like to do instead?

I’m doing what I wanted to be doing, but if I wasn’t, maybe a musician. My dad was a drummer in a rock band growing up and we always grew up with music around our house. So maybe being a musician would be cool.

Any musicians or bands that you gravitated toward?

I grew up listening to The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, that kind of music from my dad, but I love bands like U2. I love all kinds of music, rock music, dance music, electronic music, jazz, you name it.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Someone who is deeply influential in my life was Nelson Mandela. Obviously I knew his story, but I got to meet him in the Olympics in 2000 in Sydney [while competing for Canada in softball]. I got to sit in a very small meeting with him and some South African athletes and just hear him talk and share his experiences. And he really profoundly influenced me. We talked a lot about ‘What are you doing when you’re not an athlete with your life, what’s your impact going to be?’ Then I kind of studied a bit about him and I actually took my son several years later to Robben Island. We went to Cape Town and went to see where he was imprisoned. I got a chance to cross paths with him, got a chance to meet Francois Pienaar, who was the captain of the South African rugby team [which won the 1995 World Cup], and just learned about him. So he definitely was very influential and someone I admire deeply.

Obviously everyone is aware of your decorated hockey career, with your five Olympic medals and the records you established, but what do you consider your greatest achievement?

That my son is a high functioning good human. I think as a parent your greatest job is to not mess up your children. So my son is doing really well. He’s not interested in hockey or sports at all, actually, he’s an art-history major finishing his final semester at the University of Victoria, and he’s got his own dream and his own vision. He wants to be overseas and work in a museum in Europe and he’s just got his own passion. My career was just so intense, away a lot travelling and he got to experience a lot of those great things like the Olympics and international travel and such, but it came with being away and a lot of sacrifices so I think that he’s found his own path and has done well. Honestly, that is what you want as a parent. Secondly, from a professional standpoint, I would say, my hockey festival, WickFest, which kind of ties in to the Kruger Big Assist program as well, which is opening doors for girls and kids in hockey. Over 14 years, we’ve worked with over 30,000 kids. So I think that that’s my passion project that I do on the side. We’re going to be bringing events to the [Greater Toronto Area] here in the spring, which is exciting.

What is your current state of mind?

Current state of mind right now, is a bit of a sense of urgency. I’ve got the Leafs … going on a road trip and I’ve got some players that are injured, get them back on the ice, get playing well, in my role in development. So just a little bit of urgency but excitement for what’s to come in 2024.

On what occasion do you lie?

Hopefully I don’t lie. As a doctor, especially, your truth is your word. So you really have to be very honest and upfront in what you’re doing, so I don’t know if there’s an occasion that I lie.

Who are your favourite writers?

I don’t have a favourite writer. I read a lot of autobiographies. I read a lot of medicine. Honestly I don’t necessarily read for fun. I listen to podcasts a lot, I listen to BBC quite a bit, I’m actually quite into American politics, so I listen to a variety of different newscasts and podcasts about that. I listen to different medical podcasts like EM:RAP and Andrew Huberman.

What is your greatest regret?

I don’t really have any regrets, I really don’t. I made a lot of mistakes and done some dumb things. I don’t really regret. I think it’s all part of life and learning and moving forward.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

I’m definitely impatient at times. And it’s helpful and hurtful, so I think it’s a double-edged sword at times.

When and where were you happiest?

Just being in the grind. Just the day-to-day grind really. I truly loved it, I still love it. I’m sitting outside the rink here and I’m about to go in on an off day to work with players and it’s all the things behind the scenes that I really loved about the game. I loved practising. I love to train. I love to work on my craft. That’s what I miss the most of being a player and what I loved the most.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Flying business class sometimes. It’s such a joy on a long-haul flight because I fly and travel quite a bit. Just to have a lie-down-flat seat to sleep that is just something so great sometimes.

What is your greatest fear?

My greatest fear would be that my child would die before me. As a parent I think that is my greatest fear. Inside medicine my greatest fear is to make a mistake that would hurt a patient. I think it’s [the same for] all doctors. You live with the responsibility that comes with that.

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