Talk about a major line change. Hayley Wickenheiser is returning to Europe to play men’s professional hockey later this month – further cementing herself as one of the game’s greatest all-time players. “I decided it’s time to go back and get out of my comfort zone again,” says Wickenheiser, who is no stranger to discomfort. As the lone female player on boys’ teams growing up, she faced verbal abuse and the occasional “You don’t belong here” from irate parents.
Gritty and determined, Wickenheiser set out to prove them wrong: honing a physical style of game that helped her lead Canada to a gold medal in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, a feat she duplicated four years later in Turin, Italy.
"Sport and play and the right to play are just huge in my life." Wickenheiser grew up in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan. At two, she got her first pair of skates, learning to use them in a backyard ice rink made with
two-by-fours and a garden hose. By five, she was playing organized hockey, often donning her gear in boiler rooms, as no female dressing rooms were available. She moved to Calgary with her family in 1990 to play on an all-girls team and later enrolled at the University of Calgary for a B.Sc.
Now heading to Europe with her son and boyfriend, Tomas Pacina, a Florida Panthers skills coach, Wickenheiser will play Division One in Eskilstuna, Sweden.
In her spare time, Wickenheiser works to establish a professional development business program called Go for
Gold, which pairs professional athletes with businesswomen to provide mentorship and discuss goal setting. “I’m not a big talker,” she says. “But I try to lead by example."
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