Early Hockey Career
Like many Canadian hockey players, Hayley Wickenheiser first started playing ice hockey on a backyard rink built by her father. In 1990, Wickenheiser moved with her family to Calgary. She represented Alberta at the 1991 Canada Winter Games in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. Wickenheiser played extremely well, even though she was only 12 years old. Participating in a tournament for teenage girls aged 17 and younger, she was not only the youngest player on her team but also the smallest (only 1.5 m or five feet tall). She scored three goals in the tournament, including the game-winning goal in the championship final. Team Alberta won the gold medal and Wickenheiser was named the tournament’s most valuable player (MVP).
International Women’s Hockey
The year 1992 would be a significant year for women’s hockey. Two years after Ottawa hosted the very first Women’s World Hockey Championship in 1990, the International Olympic Committee gave women’s ice hockey full-medal status for the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano. For Hayley Wickenheiser, these competitions were an opportunity to showcase her skills on the international stage.
IIHF World Hockey Championships
Wickenheiser played in her first IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championship for Team Canada in 1994 at Lake Placid, New York. At age 15, Wickenheiser was still the youngest player on her team. She played three games and posted one assist to help Canada win the gold medal.
At the 1997 World Championships in Kitchener, Ontario, 18-year-old Wickenheiser became an offensive force. She led Team Canada in scoring with nine points. She notched an assist on the overtime game-winning goal in the championship final as Canada defeated the United States 4–3. Wickenheiser later led Canada to Women’s World Hockey Championship titles in 1999 and 2000. She was unable to attend the 2001 World Championship because of a knee injury. She was part of the gold medal-winning team again in 2004. However, in 2005, Team Canada lost the gold-medal game of the Women’s World Hockey Championship to the United States for the first time.
In 2007, Wickenheiser set a Canadian record for most points (14) at a Women’s World Hockey Championship with eight goals and six assists. At the tournament in Winnipeg, Team Canada won its first World Championship since 2004 by beating the United States 5–1 in the gold-medal game. Wickenheiser, who took over the captaincy from Cassie Campbell, was the tournament MVP. She also won the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as the Canadian Press Female Athlete of the Year in 2007.
Wickenheiser was part of Team Canada in 2008, 2009 and 2011, when the Canadians took silver, losing the final to the United States. In 2012, she displayed outstanding leadership at the Women’s World Hockey Championship in Burlington, Vermont. Team Canada won the gold medal by beating the United States 5–4 in overtime, after being defeated by the Americans 9–2 in the preliminary round. At the 2013 championship in Ottawa and the 2016 championship in Kamloops, Wickenheiser and Team Canada took silver (the American team again won gold both years). She did not compete at the 2015 world championship due to surgery on her foot.
In total, Wickenheiser won seven gold medals and six silver medals with Team Canada at the IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championship.
Wickenheiser was a force at the Olympic Winter Games as well. However, despite Canada’s dominance at the World Championships in 1997, the team was not guaranteed an Olympic gold at the Games the following year. At the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, the United States defeated Canada 3–1 to win the first Olympic women’s hockey tournament. Wickenheiser and Team Canada would have to settle for an Olympic silver medal.
She would not have to wait long for gold, however. At the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Wickenheiser was the tournament’s most valuable player. Team Canada captured their first Olympic gold medal with a 3–2 win over the United States. Wickenheiser was the co-leader in goals (7) and points (10).
At the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Turin, the expectations were that Canada would need another strong performance from Wickenheiser to beat the Americans. In a major surprise, Sweden upset the United States in the semifinal, setting up an unexpected gold-medal game with Canada. The Canadians were victorious 4–1 and Wickenheiser was once again named tournament MVP. She lead the tournament with 12 assists and 17 points.
Wickenheiser won her third gold medal in women’s hockey at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. These Olympic Games were special for Wickenheiser. Not only were they her fifth Olympic Games (she had also competed in women’s softball at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney), but she also delivered the athlete’s oath during the Opening Ceremonies.
At the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Wickenheiser was chosen to be the Canadian flag-bearer in the Opening Ceremonies. In the Olympic tournament, Wickenheiser notched two goals and three assists for five points in five games. Team Canada won their fourth consecutive gold medal.
However, it may be an overtime play in the gold-medal game that will be remembered most by Canadians. With the game tied at two goals apiece, Wickenheiser went on a breakaway, pursued closely by American player Hilary Knight. Wickenheiser fell, and the referee sent Knight off for cross-checking. To the surprise of many, there was no penalty shot, but during the Canadian power play, Marie-Philip Poulin scored the dramatic golden goal for Canada in another 3–2 victory.
In total, Wickenheiser won four gold medals and one silver medal in hockey at the Olympic Winter Games.
Career in Men’s Professional League
In 2002–03, Wickenheiser played in a Finnish men’s league. She scored two goals and nine assists for HC Salamat. When she scored her first goal for the team on 31 January 2003, she became the first woman to score a goal in a men’s professional league. The following season, she played 10 games for Salamat. In 2008–09, she played with Eskilstuna Linden in a Swedish men’s league.
Wickenheiser retired from competitive hockey in 2017, finishing with 379 points (168 goals and 211 assists) in 276 games with Team Canada. Her decision was influenced by two factors: her desire to spend more time with her son, Noah, and her plans to attend medical school. Wickenheiser began studies in health sciences prior to her retirement. She earned a Bachelor of Science in kinesiology in 2013 and a master’s degree in science in 2016 from the University of Calgary. Her master’s research looked at “changes in cerebral blood flow in young adults with autism after high-intensity exercise intervention.” She entered the university’s Cumming School of Medicine in 2018.
In August 2018, Wickenheiser was hired by the Toronto Maple Leafs as assistant director of player development. She became the first woman to hold that position with the franchise. She is one of several women on staff, including Dr. Meg Popovic, director of athlete wellbeing and performance; Barb Underhill, skating development consultant; and American Noelle Needham, who was hired as an amateur scout the same year.
In 2009, Wickenheiser established the Canadian Tire Wickenheiser World Female Hockey Festival (WickFest). It provides training for thousands of young female hockey players each year. She has also been involved with several charitable organizations and initiatives, including Plan Canada’s Because I am a Girl, Jumpstart, KidSport, Project North and Right To Play.
Honours and Awards
- Bobbie Rosenfeld Award, Canadian Press Female Athlete of the Year (2007)
- Named one of the Top 25 Toughest Athletes in the World, Sports Illustrated (2008)
- Officer, Order of Canada (2011)
- Inductee, Canada’s Walk of Fame (2014)
- Honorary Doctor of Laws, Ryerson University (2014)
- Honorary Doctor of Laws, University of British Columbia (2016)
- Honorary Doctor of Laws, University of Saskatchewan (2017)
- Honorary Doctor of Laws, Mount Saint Vincent University (2017)
- Honorary Doctor of Laws, University of Calgary (2018)
- Inductee, Hockey Hall of Fame (2019)