Hayley Wickenheiser says women’s hockey players are doing the right thing in announcing they won’t play next season, and hopes that the NHL will come up with a plan.
“I’ve been saying this for years, that this is what had to happen,” the Canadian hockey icon told IIHF.com. “The players had to take a stand or nothing’s going to change. So now I think we’ll actually see progress.”
Wickenheiser made her statements in a Q&A published Friday, as part of her recent induction into the International Ice Hockey Federation’s hall of fame. The six-time Olympian with four gold medals for Canada is also a shoo-in to be inducted into the Toronto-based Hockey Hall of Fame later this month in her first year of eligibility.
She was asked her opinion on the state of professional women’s hockey in North America after the Canadian Women’s Hockey League folded and the remaining players announced they would not play for the U.S.-based National Women’s Hockey League.
“I think neither the Canadian Women’s Hockey League nor the National Women’s Hockey League is the league that’s going to take women’s hockey forward in the future,” said Wickenheiser, who currently works for the Toronto Maple Leafs. “It will have to be a league backed, I think, by the NHL. I think the NHL has a plan and they need everybody else to really just get out of the way and allow them to execute and do the job that needs to happen to put the best players on the ice.
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“I’m proud of the players that stood up to say, ‘We’re not going to play.’ The reality is there’s only enough great hockey spots for about 150 players in the world, and those are the players who stood up and said, ‘We deserve better.’ So it’s taken a while to get there and there’s going to be some bumps, but by the time another league is formed, I think it will finally be the league that everyone has wanted in the game for a long time.”
Wickenheiser said she enjoys working for the Maple Leafs, where she holds the title of assistant director of player development.
“I’ve got my hands full. I’m finishing (medical school in Calgary) and working for the Leafs,” she said. “They’ve been gracious enough to allow me to do that, going back and forth between finishing up my med career. So I don’t have any time right now to do that. If something happened down the road, I would look at it. But right now, I’m very happy working for the Leafs in the best league in the world with the best players. It’s a nice place to be.”
Kevin McGran is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @kevin_mcgran