Welcome to Hockey Night at Memorial! In tonight’s match, Hayley Wickenheiser takes on the odds in a contest for equality and respect in the arena of professional sport. Wickenheiser has determination, persistence, hard work, focus and talent on her side; the odds are led by tradition, and it is widely rumoured that bias and sexism may be in play as well.
Wickenheiser had a promising pre-game warm-up; born on Aug. 12, 1978, in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan, she took to ice skates at the age of three. But not figure skates; only hockey skates would do for young Hayley. She played on boys’ teams until she was 12 years old, when she moved to the Saskatchewan girls’ under 17 provincial team and scored the winning goal in the gold medal match at the Canada Games.
And the first period is underway … Wickenheiser keeps honing her hockey skills while attending Bishop Carroll High School in Shaunavon. At the 15-year mark, she makes a big move, becoming the youngest member of the Canadian national women’s ice hockey team. The team wins gold at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships in 1994, and in five subsequent competitions. Wickenheiser’s impressive play lands her on the All-Star team in 1997, 1999, 2000, 2005 and 2007. The team also scores gold in 11 of 13 3-Nations, 4-Nations and Pacific Rim Cups since 1995. The first period closes coming on to the 20-year mark when Hayley Wickenheiser is handed the first of two invitations to attend the Philadelphia Flyers’ rookie camp in 1998.
Well, Vice-Chancellor, some exciting action in the first period. Since Don Cherry is unable to attend tonight’s celebrations, we’ll move right on to the second period.
And right away at 1998, Wickenheiser and Team Canada make a terrific play at Nagano, Japan, coming away with the silver medal in the first ever women’s Olympic hockey competition. Wickenheiser registers a tournament-leading six assists. At the 2000 mark, Wickenheiser changes position, playing on the Canadian women’s softball team at the Sydney Olympics. She becomes only the second Canadian woman ever to compete in both winter and summer Olympic events. Moving into 2002, Wickenheiser and Team Canada go undefeated to SCORE Olympic gold at Salt Lake City. Wickenheiser adds top scorer and MVP honours to her growing list of accomplishments.
Now, Wickenheiser crosses the blue line, joining the Kirkkonummi Salamat team in Finland’s division II league. Early in 2003, she becomes the first woman to score a goal in a men’s professional league game.
At the 2006 mark, Team Canada SCORES gold again, defeating Sweden for a second straight Olympic championship. Wickenheiser exemplifies her “excellence and professionalism” motto, playing brilliantly despite a broken wrist. And as the second period comes to a close, in April 2007, Wickenheiser captains the Canadian women to yet another world championship and posts a hat trick of individual honours as top forward, leading scorer and MVP.
Vice-Chancellor, as it is the practice of sports commentators to offer analysis of the game between periods, let us examine Hayley Wickenheiser’s play in a broader context. For Ms. Wickenheiser plays to win at more than hockey, her determination on the ice is the manifestation of an approach to life that does not accept half measures or an attitude of “good enough to get by.” Her play on boys’ and later men’s teams was neither a publicity stunt nor self-promotion, but rather a means to continue to challenge herself. She is an inspiration to her teammates and a role model for girls and young women contemplating the possibility of a career in professional sport. Her example encourages us to challenge the odds against achieving our full potential by facing off against whatever stands in our way. And she is still a young woman, full of promise for the future. Who knows what lies ahead in the third period, or what triumphs subsequent contests will bring?
Vice-Chancellor, for her remarkable accomplishments as an athlete, for her outstanding leadership qualities and for her inspiring example as a trailblazer, I present to you, for the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa, Hayley Wickenheiser.