Women’s hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser has no plans to retire, is aiming for Pyeongchang 2018
The question momentarily stunned Hayley Wickenheiser, much like a crushing bodycheck into the end boards by a bruising American defenceman.
“What made you decide to retire?” a small voice asked the guest of honour in a Grade 3-4 split class at Pineridge Elementary School in Northeast Calgary.
“Well,” said arguably greatest player of a generation in women’s hockey. “I didn’t technically retire. People think I might be retiring, because I’ve been around a long time.”
In fact, Wickenheiser told the kids at Pineridge that she absolutely she intends on playing next season … and beyond.
“I think I’ve still got more hockey in me,” said Wickenheiser, who has played for 20 years on the national team. “I’m not ready to hang them up.”
Not ready to hang them up now or anytime in the near future. In fact, Canada’s flag-bearer at the Sochi Games plans to play through the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea — provided, of course, her body co-operates.
“I’d like to go for Pyeongchang,” she said. “You need to stay healthy and who knows where life will take you in four years, but at this point, that’s what I’m thinking about.”
By the time Pyeongchang rolls around, Wickenheiser will be 39.
At 35, before the puck dropped at the Sochi Olympics, Wickenheiser definitely heard the whispers that age had finally caught up to her.
In the exhibition matches leading up to the Games, her foot speed looked, at times, wanting. Her dominance appeared a relic of days past.
But in the Olympic tournament, the pride of Shaunavon, Sask. collected two goals and three assists in five games. And without Wickenheiser, Canada might have settled for silver.
In overtime of the gold medal game against the United States, Wickenheiser took off on a breakaway, only to be pulled down by American Hilary Knight. The ensuing minor penalty set the stage for Marie-Philip Poulin’s stirring overtime winner for Canada.
Turns out, Wickenheiser performed such heroics with a broken bone in her left foot that a modified training program, injections and a new-found ability to go somewhere else mentally when the pain became too great.
“I think I had a very good Olympics in terms of how it went and how I performed,” said the longtime Calgary resident. “It was fun for me to prove people wrong and win a gold medal again.”
Even with four Olympic gold in her collection, Wickenheiser is not satisfied. She is wearing a walking boot on her left foot in hopes of avoiding surgery to insert a screw.
Once the wounded paw fully heals, she plans to hit the ice and resume normal programming.
“I just think about being at the Olympics and having a chance talk to Teemu Selanne,” Wickenheiser said. “At 43, he was the MVP of the Olympics. Age is just a label. It’s something people want to define in sport.”
An aspiring medical doctor and holder of an undergraduate degree in kinesiology from the University of Calgary, Wickenheiser believes the human body — if treated properly — can perform at elite levels even when a birth certificate suggests otherwise.
“With where sport is at, 35 is like 25 now if you take care of yourself,” she said. “Training has advanced. So has nutrition. Careers, if you’re willing to put in the time and the effort, they can be longer than they ever have before.
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