Blazing the Trail in Women’s Hockey: Was it Worth it?

Hayley Wickenheiser, arguably one of the best hockey players in the game, was recently inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Retiring in 2017, Wickenheiser ended her career “as the all-time leading scorer for Canada, with 168 goals and 211 assists in 276 games over 23 years. Her resume includes four Olympic gold medals and seven world championship titles.” Although Wickenheiser undoubtedly has had a very successful career, she had to endure a lot of struggle along the way.

Hayley Wickenheiser wraps up her 23-year hockey career (Source: Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images)

During the induction ceremony, Wickenheiser reflected on her 23-year hockey career and the challenges she faced as woman playing a men’s game. Growing up, she recalls that she wanted nothing more than to go unnoticed when she entered the rink; indeed, although she felt most comfortable on the ice, the rink was a stressful environment for young Wickenheiser, as she often had to endure various verbal barbs from other players and parents. Having cut her hair short to try and fit in with the boys, Wickenheiser would change into her hockey gear either at home or in the bathroom stall just in time to make it the locker room where she would join her male teammates for pre-game talks.

I wanted to play the game so bad I didn’t care what I had to endure and looking back, it was a lot.

Hayley Wickenheiser

As a talented player from a very young age, Wickenheiser attended an all-boys hockey camp in Regina where she was told that if she wanted to attend the only place available for her to sleep was a closet – of course with so much love for the game, she accepted the opportunity. Playing with the boys wasn’t only something she did as a child. In 2007, Wickenheiser became the first woman to play full-time men’s hockey in Sweden.

Wickenheiser recently accepted a role with the Toronto Maple Leafs as the Assistant Director of Player Development (Source: Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Now, at the age of 41, Hayley has retired from the game and is currently working for the Toronto Maple Leafs as the Assistant Director of Player Development and is also a medical student at the University of Calgary.

Certainly, Wickenheiser has led an impressive career as a hockey player and has supported girls and women in hockey through her own program WickFest, a world hockey festival for females. Toward this end, many have called Wickenheiser a pioneer and trailblazer for women in hockey. Certainly, in accordance with the suggestion that there is a need for more women in leadership positions within the world of sport, Wickenheiser has done her part but a crucial question still remains – was it worth it?

PWHPA and Budweiser #FORTHEGAME campaign

In 2018, the CWHL folded due to financial issues. This meant that although there were great strides for women’s hockey being made at the grassroots level for young girls, their future in hockey was not looking very bright for there was no longer a professional league for them to play in. This leads us to question whether what Wickenheiser had to endure as a young girl made it any better for the many girls and women that will follow in her footsteps.

Luckily, the PWHPA has recently partnered with Budweiser, thus affording women another chance to play high level hockey, however they are still in need of other sponsors “to promote, advance and support a single, viable professional women’s ice hockey league.” It seems that, despite Wickenheiser’s efforts to pave the way for women in hockey, there are still many challenges these women are facing within the sport.

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Featured image: Hayley Wickenheiser receives Hockey Hall of Fame Ring (Source: Getty Images)

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