Hayley Wickenheiser is the best female hockey player in the world.
Yup, I know. I have a knack for stating the obvious.
Everywhere she goes in the women’s game, she dominates.
She made headlines by becoming the first woman to play a skating position on a professional men’s hockey club (goaltender Manon Rheaume was, of course, the first woman to ever play pro men’s hockey).
She lives and speaks with the same kind of fire with which she plays.
She was the quotable quote at the Salt Lake City Olympics when word struck Team USA players were trouncing on the Canadian flag in their dressing room.
More recently, she has become an advocate for growth of women’s hockey, not just in Canada but also globally — all in the face of back-room chatter that the sport isn’t strong enough to maintain Olympic status.
She spoke eloquently last month at the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit, challenging countries to reach beyond societal stigma of women playing sports and help young girls grow and flourish as athletes.
She spoke of strides made toward the creation of a professional women’s hockey league, one that you said you would go watch.
And this past Thursday, she stole the spotlight by announcing she would be playing for CIS hockey for the University of Calgary Dinos.
Danielle Goyette, Dinos head coach, recruited her longtime teammate on the national squad.
“She will show the girls how hard you have to work to become the best player in the world,” Goyette said during the official announcement. “It’s going to help our team to get better and bring it to the next level.”
Hayley’s going back to finish her kinesiology degree.
She has five years of eligibility at the CIS level.
And she’s 32.
Kinda ripe for a rookie.
For Hayley, though, it was the right timing. Typically, she spends her off-Olympic winters skating with the Oval X-Treme in the Western Women’s Hockey League.
But that team has suspended operations for the season.
Or, she’s gone to Europe to play pro men’s hockey.
You have to figure, though, moving her family to Finland or Sweden has to be tough.
So here she’ll stay and don the Dinos colours.
You are split on the decision.
@DerekTaylorFSR: Here’s what’s wrong with Cdn. college sports…32-year-old former pros can play CIS hockey. http://bit.ly/9bpj9X #Wickenheiser
@ValerieWatts: Hayley Wickenheiser to play for U of C… Is that even fair!?
@FrammaZamma: Hayley Wickenheiser @wick_22 needs to get over herself. Move on and give a spot to a deserving young player.
@JSaggau: I don’t know if it helps the women’s game at all but I would definitely go watch. She’s a Canadian legend.
@JimPap: Nope. Taking a spot from someone who busted butt to get there, just so she has somewhere to play. Totally selfish
@askrickdotcom: No! Great move for herself. Not doing anything for women’s hockey. Shannon Millers coaching university hockey helps.
@ToriePeterson: I can’t wait to check out the Dinos. I’ll admit it – she’s piqued my interest. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.
@DanPagan: Yes, depends on if Hayley can help bring the Dinos team to the next level and make other players better.
@itstara88: I’d love to go see one of her games
@AbbyPlaysHockey: someone with her credentials should really boost interest. i’d def go see if i was in the area or nearby.
@brennancreative: If it draws more attention to the CIS woman’s game and increases attendance it can’t hurt.
A status update on Hayley’s Facebook fan page lit up with well wishes, positive messages and congratulations.
Here’s the thing.
She’s the best player in the world.
Yeah, I already said that.
She has three gold medals and one silver medal at the Olympics. She has six golds and three silvers at the world championships.
So the question is why? Why Canadian Interuniversity Sport women’s hockey? Why three, four, maybe five or six steps down from what she’s used to playing?
“It was the right timing, coming off the Olympic year,” she said during the press conference. “I want to go back to school and work on my degree. Everything worked out where I have the option to play here, practise with the men’s team and still play all of the national team events. It seemed like it was the best situation at this time.”
It’s fair to expect she will skate onto the ice and instantly dominate.
It’s fair to expect she will skate circles around the competition.
Maybe it’s also fair to expect she will serve as a player/assistant coach, helping Goyette and the rest of the Dinos coaching staff in teaching the intricacies of the game and leading her teammates through the various stages of improvement.
And how can anyone deny this excitement:
“I think it’s amazing being able to play with Hayley,” Dinos goaltender Kiersten Giesbrecht said. “I’ve been dreaming about it since I was little. It’s going to be great.”
Last month, at the Summit in Toronto, Hayley was part of a panel that discussed Canada’s national-team members acting as mentors, sharing their skills and knowledge with grass-roots organizations around the world.
But it’s also important to remember that we need to keep developing the game on our own soil.
Maybe this is Step 1 for Hayley becoming that mentor, not just inspiring little girls and young women around the world with her play, her gold-medal chewing and her flag waving, but also with her teaching and her support.
And there’s nothing selfish about that.