Sports Hockey

Hayley Wickenheiser says her retirement from hockey feels both like planning a funeral and graduation

By Vicki Hall, Postmedia Network

Team Canada's Hayley Wickenheiser during third period semifinal action against Finland at GM Place in Vancouver, B.C., on Monday, Feb. 22, 2010. (ANDRE FORGET/POSTMEDIA NETWORK FILE PHOTO)

Team Canada's Hayley Wickenheiser during third period semifinal action against Finland at GM Place in Vancouver, B.C., on Monday, Feb. 22, 2010. (ANDRE FORGET/POSTMEDIA NETWORK FILE PHOTO)

Hayley Wickenheiser sounded the buzzer on her glorious hockey career Friday after 23 years on the national team capped by four Olympic gold medals.

The 38-year-old Shaunavon, Sask., native amassed 168 goals and 211 assists in 276 games for Canada and is almost certainly bound for the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Postmedia chatted with Wickenheiser before she headed up to Edmonton Saturday for a ceremony in her honour in advance of the Oilers vs. Flames game at Rogers Place.

Here’s Wick in her own words:

On retiring before the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea:

“Obviously it’s bittersweet. I started when I was 15, so every experience I’ve had growing up, I had through the lens of being a hockey player. So you kind of feel like you’re planning your own funeral but your own graduation in some ways. It’s time to do other things and move on, which I’m really excited about. I’m grateful for the time I had, and I’ll definitely miss it.”

On the timing of the announcement:

“I didn’t want to let a medical school opportunity go by. I would have liked to go through to 2018, but just with the timing of everything, this was best. I’m accepted to med school."

On the tweet that made her retirement official:

“For me, to send out the tweet was a little bit of a weight off my shoulders, because I had been thinking about it for a while. There was a flood of emotions being in the Hockey Night in Canada studios (Friday). I saw Ron McLean, Don Cherry, Dick Irvin and Bob Cole. Those are all the people I grew up watching and listening to and they’re the people who shaped the fabric of how I see hockey in this country. You just go through all these emotions. I think of all the great players I played with and teammates and the memories I have. It’s not really about the wins. It’s about the moments through your career. That’s what I’ll hold onto."

On the memories that stand out…

“I think the things you cherish are the moments along the way – the silly things you did with your teammates and the fun and crazy things that happened. But also the big victories. Winning in Salt Lake was against all odds, really. Then, we won on our home soil in Vancouver, which is really hard to do and most athletes don’t get the opportunity to do that. And then the crazy game in Sochi – the Miracle on Ice, they call it  — that we're able to pull out. But it’s also the little things – barnstorming Alberta and Saskatchewan and playing in all those small rinks. And all those people in Shaunavon, Sask., who shaped me. I would never have ever had this chance without them. And my mom and dad who went through hell to help me play the game."

On the 'hell' of playing hockey as a girl in the early 1980s…

“Truly, it was hell at times. That’s the best way to describe it. It was almost like a contract that I signed in order to play the game. You know it’s going to be hard but this is what you have to go through. I changed in the back seat of the car. I remember I changed in a bathroom in our little rink and two moms came in talking about the girl who was going to be playing that night. I was trying to hide in the other stall and not let them see me as I put my skates on. Just little things like that were a lot of stress. But when I got on the ice, I felt most at home. It was my safe place, I guess. I think it made me tough, too. I learned to not listen to the critical opinion."

On the explosion of female hockey players in Canada from 16,000 in her rookie year on the national team to almost 87,000 at present:

“I smile sometimes because I think, 'These little girls have no idea.' Probably like the women before me thought, 'You have no idea how tough it’s been.’ It just gets easier and easier. And that’s how it’s supposed to be. I’m proud that every little girl in this country can go into a rink with a bag and a stick and nobody is going to think twice. There’s probably girls’ change rooms in there now and they expect to see girls. That’s a big, big moment. Not every country has that, even in countries that play women’s hockey in the Olympics. I think Canadians and Canada can be proud that we’ve taken it this far, and there’s still more to come."

On the state of the women’s game internationally:

"The way we’re going to push the game to the next level is that we need one league outside the Olympics where the best players in the world play. That’s probably a league that will be operated by the NHL. They’ll have to take it under their wing and do women’s professional hockey. When you get the best players from Europe – just like Borje Salming and all these guys did when they came over to play for the NHL – I see that as a great future for the women’s game. Then it will elevate other countries. But as the social status of women goes in each country, so does the women’s game. So when women are treated equally in these countries that are struggling, the game is going to get better too.”

Why retire now?

“It’s timing. I didn’t want to let a medical school opportunity go by. I would have liked to go through to 2018, but just with the timing of everything, this was best. I’m accepted to med school."

vhall@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/vickihallch

 



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