Sunday Feb 05, 2023

Hayley Wickenheiser pushing for equality for women in hockey — one stick at a time – ESPN


Hockey Hall of Famer Hayley Wickenheiser is determined to get female players young and old hockey sticks designed specifically for them. Perry Nelson/USA TODAY Sports

THERE ARE OVERACHIEVERS. And then, there’s Hayley Wickenheiser.

The six-time Olympian and four-time gold medalist in women’s ice hockey has barely finished her shift helping deliver babies at a downtown Toronto hospital and is already going full speed discussing her latest sports-related passion project — the “Wick Stick.” And that’s to say nothing of Wickenheiser’s other important task, keeping constant tabs on her role as senior director of player development for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Somehow, Wickenheiser has made every transition look seamless. And she’s not one to miss an opportunity.

After retiring from an illustrious professional hockey career in 2017, Wickenheiser took on a very different challenge in pursuing a medical degree from the University of Calgary, which she earned last year. During that time, Wickenheiser also started working in the Leafs’ player development program and was promoted to her current role in May. Wickenheiser moved to Toronto full time, balancing her obligations to the Leafs and starting her medical residency. Now she regularly swaps between sweatsuits and scrubs, cycling through hospital department rotations (such as OB-GYN), then shifting her focus back to hockey.

In her rare free time, Wickenheiser has spearheaded the “Conquer COVID” initiative that gets needed medical supplies to front-line workers, continued to nurture her WickFest programs connecting young women with hockey and, most recently, designed her own hockey stick with Verbero equipment company.

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That last item was a surprising first for Wickenheiser. Despite being the most decorated female hockey player of all time, no equipment company ever constructed a stick specifically with her input. The best Wickenheiser ever did was develop her own pattern (which constitutes a stick’s flex, grip, shape of the shaft, lie of the blade on the ice, and kick point), borrowing ideas from a couple of noted stick aficionados. She eventually rolled some of that knowledge into her own design.

“I actually got a [Jason] Spezza and an [Alex] Ovechkin stick and I put them together to make my own pattern, so it’s a hybrid between the two of those,” Wickenheiser told ESPN. “And I was able to do that for many years. Every equipment company I worked with always created the pattern that I wanted, but I never really had a say in any design. So [when I was approached to] design this stick, it has some of the history of my career going into it. My friend who runs WickFest with me, we came up with the ideas to give more input and draw our own drawings and give different design ideas to go into the stick. We put a lot of effort into the design process and it was great.”

When Wickenheiser was first approached by Verbero owner/CEO Andy Sutton about collaborating on a stick, she thought it was a terrific chance to finally create equipment targeted toward women. And this wasn’t like Wickenheiser was just endorsing something for Verbero; she would have a hand in making branded items that have been absent from the female marketplace.

That was an …….


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