KIRKKONUMMI, Finland — February 1, 2003
Women's hockey has never seen a player better than Hayley Wickenheiser. She made her debut with the Canadian national team in 1994 at the age of 15, and in short order she was the most dominating player in the game. Wickenheiser was named MVP of the last two Olympics (2002 and 2006) as well as the most recent World Women's Championship (2007), and in ten appearances at the Olympics and World Women's Championship she has won eight gold medals and two silver medals.
Wickenheiser is renowned for the completeness of her game. A powerful skater, she has speed and finesse and possesses unquestionably the hardest shot in the game. Part Wayne Gretzky, part Al MacInnis, she is, quite simply, a force of unequal talent in the women's game. For these reasons she was once invited to the training camp of the Philadelphia Flyers, and in an effort to improve her skills and challenge herself she played professionally with men for the better part of a year.
The occasion came midway through the 2002-03 season when Wickenheiser joined Kirkkonummen Salamat, a Division 2 team in Finland. She made her debut on January 11, 2003, and three weeks later she scored her first goal, the first woman to score in a men's pro league. She remained with the club through the first half of the next season, during which time she collected three goals and 19 points in 40 games. She was also one of the top faceoff players in the league.
Some fans called Wickenheiser's signing a promotional stunt while others applauded her bravery. Either way, there were several players on her team who didn't collect 19 points, and she handled herself with class and dignity. If she didn't exactly belong with the men, she sure proved she could play with them. No other woman can claim as much.
As part of the IIHF's 100th anniversary celebrations, www.IIHF.com is featuring the 100 top international hockey stories from the past century (1908-2008). Starting now and continuing through the 2008 IIHF World Championships in Canada, we will bring you approximately three stories a week counting down from Number 100 to Number 11.
The Final Top 10 Countdown will be one of the highlights of the IIHF's Centennial Gala Evening in Quebec City on May 17, the day prior to the Gold Medal Game of the 2008 World Championship.
These are the criteria for inclusion on this list: First, the story has to have had a considerable influence on international hockey. Second, it has to have had either a major immediate impact or a long-lasting significance on the game. Third, although it doesn't necessarily have to be about top players, the story does have to pertain to the highest level of play, notably Olympics, World Championships, and the like. The story can be about a single moment — a goal, a great save, a referee's call — or about an historic event of longer duration — a game, series, tournament, or rule change.