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The Globe and Mail

The interview: Hayley Wickenheiser, hockey star

in their own words


Hayley Wickenheiser

Hayley Wickenheiser has won four Olympic gold medals, played professional in a European men’s league, and was named to the Order of Canada in 2011.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

The six-time Olympian, 37, has done more for hockey than any other woman, and she will likely be a first ballot Hall of Famer when she finally retires

At 16, I was playing Wednesday afternoon shinny with all the media guys in Calgary. Six Olympics later, to see where women's hockey has gone, it's amazing.

I played my first women's world championship in 1990 when there were 10,000 registered female players in Canada. Now, there are around 100,000. When I started, if you walked into an arena with a hockey bag, people would look twice at you and you weren't welcome. Now, women's hockey is part of the fabric of our culture.

For me, it was all about timing. I came in at the right time and took advantage of the opportunity.

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I was born with a competitive streak. That's who I am. At a very young age, you had to fight for your space, especially as a female playing with boys. You had to prove your worth by proving you could compete, and it's still the same today. For what I do, especially at the Olympic level, if you're not going to be a competitor, you're not going to be around.

I don't like to lose at anything. There are times when it's not the best quality to have when you're just playing a board game – wanting to win at everything – but for the most part, it's a good quality.

Wickfest was just an idea I had to promote female hockey and leave a legacy, and to teach the girls that it's important to be a complete athlete, not just a hockey player. We started it after the 2010 Winter Olympics. It's in its sixth year, we have 2,000 players come in from around the world. There are 100 teams and 100 more on the waiting list.

Nothing is ever more important than my son and my family. Noah is 15, and he doesn't play hockey. He hates it actually because it's all consuming and never ending. Mostly, he does rec sports now, but he was a competitive swimmer and he boxes. He's very much involved in the cadets and military. He'd liked to go to RMC. He's very passionate and proud about the military, and defends veterans. That's his thing.

You have to work and earn everything you get in life, and you have to fall on your face at times and experience failure. Failure is important. At the end of the day, whatever you want to be and wherever you want to go, just make sure you're a good person, doing it.

There are a lot of pros. What matters is not necessarily what you do but the impact you have on others, and the legacy you leave. The con is, if you're a publicly recognized person, if you're tired and you just want to crawl into a hole, you can't necessarily do that. You have to summon the energy to give time to people. That just comes with the territory.

The years I played men's hockey in Europe, there were some difficult times. It was a lonely experience at times. I learned that anything is possible. We all have more in us than we think. I was stronger than I thought I was – to handle it all. I also learned it is possible to change people's perspectives. I did that by playing in Sweden, but it's never going to be easy.

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I don't see women ever playing in the NHL against men, but I do see a women's NHL sometime in the future. I see it more now than ever before.

Right now, you've got the two competing women's leagues – the CWHL and the NWHL – and then you've got the NHL, which is actively involved in talks with both, to try to figure something out. I've been in meetings with Mr. Bettman where he's said, 'we want to do something, but we just don't know what at this point.' So there is going to be a female NHL at some point. Whether it's in my career or not, I don't know. But that's the more realistic option and it's also the one that's in the best interest of everyone in the game.

As a player, these are interesting times. I play for the Calgary Inferno in the CWHL. Two competing women's leagues now, sometimes the game has to take one step back to move two steps forward, and it feels as if that's what's happening. I don't think either wins, and only one will survive. I don't know which it'll be, but I know the game will be better because of it. It's pushing both to raise the bar.

Our crowds are anywhere from 800 to 1,000 per game. If we had more corporate involvement, we could drive those numbers up, but it's always going to be a challenge. With the CWHL, they're trying to grow the league from the grass roots, and I think that's the way. You can't just keep throwing money at something and expect it to grow. That's my view on it, but it still has a ways to go.

The fact that the Hockey Hall of Fame is now honouring women is huge for our game. It lends credibility and respect. The women that go into the Hall Of Fame were really ground breakers. You're going up against the best of the best – male, female, international. To get in is really hard and I don't think it's a token thing. If they earn it, they earn it. That's what I see, quality players and quality people going in. When that happened, that's a huge step forward for the women's game -and good on the Hall Of Fame for doing that.

Hayley Wickenheiser leads the Canadian team into the stadium during opening ceremonies at the Sochi Winter Olympics Friday, February 7, 2014 in Sochi.

Hayley Wickenheiser leads the Canadian team into the stadium during opening ceremonies at the Sochi Winter Olympics Friday, February 7, 2014 in Sochi.


When you pick up a newspaper and see all the bad things happening in the world, all the people killing each other, to not get caught up in the little things is really important. I play a silly game, but I am grateful for what I have. We need to stop more often and express that. We are so lucky to live in Canada. As Canadians, we need to be good leaders and good citizens of the world and show the way.

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I hope to play one more Olympics in 2018, if I can stay healthy. I took a puck off my foot in Four Nations, 2012. It was broken, but it was misdiagnosed a few times and got worse. I played with it through Sochi, then I had a screw put in after the Olympics and that didn't work, then I had to have another surgery after that.

I had total reconstructive foot surgery in February, so I didn't walk for four months. I have a plate and eight screws in my left foot, but it feels good now on the ice. Season's on.

Too many times, especially in the NHL, you see teams put guys into boxes, because of their age, even though they defy those numbers. I talked to Jaromir Jagr about that in Sochi. As I get older, that's an important thing to say as an athlete – age doesn't matter, it should be about your performance.

For guys like Jagr, in the latter stages of their careers, ultimately what stands out is how much they love to play the game and how they're all still really good at it. They embrace all the things that come from being a generation older than your teammates. You have to learn to have fun with it.

I put in my hours training, but the one thing I don't do is work out post-game like Jagr does. At midnight, I'm fast asleep.

– As told to Eric Duhatschek

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