Women’s hockey has changed a lot since Hayley Wickenheiser first picked up a stick.
The Shaunavon, Sask. legend reflected on her younger days during an interview with the Green Zone’s Jamie Nye Wednesday, describing the great lengths she went to hide her gender.
“I didn’t want anyone to know I was a girl,” she said. “So I had short hair, and I looked like a little boy for a long time.”
As she got older, Wickenheiser said she would tuck her hair into her helmet to hide it.
Later, when she was in Midget AAA in Calgary, she would do her best to make sure no-one saw her before the game.
“I was so nervous,” she said. “But I could finally be free when I was playing because I was a good player.”
Wickenheiser said it was a challenge to find space to change into her equipment, something she’s glad has changed for new generations of female players.
“It’s become more mainstream, and that’s good,” she said.
American rivalry, Olympic memories
Fast forward to today, and Wickenheiser is widely regarded as the best woman to ever lace up the skates.
She has five Olympic medals, four gold and one silver, and 119 points in 67 international games played.
Wickenheiser also became the first woman to play professional hockey in a position other than goalie when she suited up for HC Salamat in Finland in 2002.
But it’s the big international games against the U.S. that’ll stick in her mind.
“As much as I hate them, I’m going to miss them,” she said. “It was always the sweetest victories when you could beat them in the biggest moments, and losing to them was the worst feeling.”
Wickenheiser referred to the pain of losing at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano to the Americans, saying she had two rules for herself while standing on the blueline.
“Number one, I’m not going to let the Americans see me cry,” she said. “Number two, I never want to feel this way again.”
And she didn’t, leading Team Canada to four straight Olympic golds in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014.
Wickenheiser also discussed her future after hanging her skates up for good.
Top of mind is going to medical school, a pursuit she’s put off throughout her playing career.
But it’s not the only option on the table.
“I’ve had some really interesting conversations… with people in the game, at the NHL level,” she said. “Where I would go and how I would work it out is making my head spin.”
“I’m sure I’ll still be in the game in some capacity at some point.”