Sochi Olympics mark end of the Hayley Wickenheiser era
Veteran hockey player attending her 6th and final Games
The end of an era is upon us. The Hayley Wickenheiser era.
The 35-year-old, who is the face of Canadian women’s hockey is attending her sixth Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. It will, in all likelihood, her final Olympics.
This is a very big deal; like when Wayne Gretzky retired.
The thing is, it isn’t just Hayley’s final Olympics as a participating athlete. Her parents Tom and Marilyn Wickenheiser have been right there every step of the way with her. So when the 2014 Games conclude, their Olympic journey is over, too.
Hayley will be the flag bearer for Canada -- a testament to her many accomplishments representing her country -- and hopes to go out on a high with her fourth Olympic gold medal.
Going to the Olympics is old hat now for the Wickenheisers; something they do every four years. The first Games they attended, however, remain special in their hearts even if the story did not have a happy ending.
At the time, going to the Olympic Games seemed surreal to them.
“That’s the best word to use,” Marilyn said. “I think we were kind of in a cloud or a fog. Of course, with women’s hockey the Olympics are the pinnacle. It’s the Stanley Cup for women’s hockey. And this was the first time women’s hockey was in the Olympics.”
“It wasn’t just that Hayley was going to the Olympics,” Tom added, “But that the Olympics was in Japan, which was totally foreign to us and it was an amazing trip.”
As they would do in the future, the Wickenheisers moved into the homes of local families while in Japan. It enhanced their overall experience.
“We had a fabulous home stay with a couple of families,” Tom said. “The Japanese are amazing people.”
Sweet & sour Olympic debut
Over the years there would be plenty of Olympic thrills, but the Wickenheisers first Olympic experience concluded unexpectedly with the United States capturing the first-ever Olympic gold medal. Team USA beat Canada 3-1 in the final game.
“The first game we saw when we got there was against Finland and it was tight,” Marilyn recalled. “We didn’t break it open until the second period and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh!’ We were tense every single game. But when they went into that final game against the United States, we didn’t see that coming at all.”
If an entire nation expecting a gold medal were disappointed at finishing second, Tom and Marilyn were broken-hearted mostly for their daughter.
“She doesn’t like to mention her silver medal,” Marilyn said.
“She took it really hard,” Tom said. “And a lot of the media attention was on here. She had been playing hurt, but hadn’t told anybody. Finally Danielle Goyette got her to admit her elbow was injured.”
In 2000 Hayley decided to try out for the Olympic softball team. Softball was her second sport, so to speak.
“When she had to make the decision if she would pursue softball, she was also pursuing university and she was almost in tears trying to decide what to do,” Marilyn said. “I just told her she could always go to school, but you can’t always be involved in sports. She said she didn’t want to be known as a dumb jock.”
Hayley was the last player chosen to make the team and proved her worth finishing with the best batting average on the team. Canada finished 1-6 at the Games in Sydney, Australia, losing three games by one run.
Being the parents of a star athlete has its challenges, but Tom and Marilyn insist they don’t let the pressure get to them. Marilyn insists she is the calmer of the two while Tom tends to get pretty vocal. Tom often finds it hard sit still at a game.
“I am pretty jittery,” Tom said. “I like to move about. I like to get to a space where I can yell a little bit. Sometimes the referees hear it from me.”
“It’s not always possible for him to move in some of the little rinks, so I get a lot of bruises on my ribs,” Marilyn added.
One of their most lasting memories was the gold medal game at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City. Canada won the game 3-2 against Team USA despite drawing 13 penalties compared to just six for the Americans. The game was refereed by an American.
“It was very frustrating, but I kind of felt sorry for her [Stacey Livingston] because I think she was out of her league,” Marilyn said.
“She was not qualified to ref at that high level,” added Tom. “It really showed the character of the team when they killed off those penalties.”
The Wickenheisers said Hayley’s dream when she was young was to play in the NHL.
“We didn’t say anything to her, but we were thinking this isn’t going to work,” Marilyn said. “We told her to keep dreaming. There were national championships, but we could see it wasn’t fulfilling the need that she had.”
Hayley played bantam AAA with boys in Calgary one year and she was named most valuable player, but she failed the following season to make the midget team. And yet she pushed forward chasing her dream.
“I look at it as a series of steps and it started when she went to the Canada Games in 1991 when she was 12 years old,” Tom said. “I started looking ahead because it became clear to me she had a future in the game and was really going to be going places.”
“Right from the beginning she stood out,” Marilyn said. “We lived in a small town, Shaunovan, Saskatchewan, and she did stand out, but I don’t think we knew how good she was until the Canada Winter Games and we got to see what was happening in female hockey across the country and you got to see a comparison.”
Hayley has more than proven herself over the years and she remains a player Canada counts on. Rest assured participating in the 2014 Games in Sochi will not be the last time you hear about Hayley Wickenheiser. There’s a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame waiting for her.