There never was a lot going on in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan, a farming town 75 miles from the big-city lights of Swift Current, but at night there was nothing. No cars. No noise. Nothing. Tom Wickenheiser would stand in his backyard and spray water from a hose, back and forth, over and over, building a rink. He was doing what so many Canadian fathers of so many Canadian hockey playersOrr and Howe, Gretzky and Lemieux, and the resthad done, providing not only the opportunity for winter fun but also laying out the slippery magic carpet that every once in a while carries a kid to fame, fortune and large arenas around the world.
"There was a time, I forget exactly how old Hayley was, when I sat her down," Tom says. "I tried to explain life. She was a good athlete in all sportssoftball, volleyball, basketball. I told her these were sports with an upside. She probably should concentrate on them. Hockey, I said, really didn't have a future. She said she didn't care. She wanted to play hockey."
Hayley Wickenheiser, the best woman hockey player in the world5'9", 170 pounds, strong and skilled, lethal with a slap shotis only 19, but when she began playing, a female hockey player was an aberration, a curiosity, even in a country teeming with hockey players. For Hayley to dream about a future in that sport seemed as unrealistic as to dream about riding a giraffe on the moon.
A pair of figure skates went unused after one or two trial runs. Hayley, 3, wanted hockey skates. Tom, a phys-ed teacher, believed all sports were good for personal development. Hockey skates were purchased.
In 1990 two important things happened. One was that the first women's world championship was held, in Ottawa. The final was shown on TV; the Canadian team, in pink and white, beat the U.S. 5-2 for the title. Suddenly there was a place for Hayley to go. She could play on this national team.
The second was that the Wickenheisers moved to Calgary, where a team for girls had been started. Not only was there a place to go, but also a way to get there.
Now she is the star of Canada's world champion national team. She earns $1,875 a month. She is making a living off women's hockey! It is a radical concept. "Maybe it's not the money that men make," says Hayley, a distant cousin to Doug Wickenheiser, top pick in the 1980 NHL draft, "but we're professional hockey players."
That slippery magic carpet is about to land in Japan.
Issue date: February 9, 1998
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