Monday, 27 January 2014

Flag bearer honor for Hayley Wickenheiser a fitting tribute to superlative career

While it is a great moment for women’s hockey, one cannot help but wonder if the appointment of hockey hero Hayley Wickenheiser as Canada’s flag bearer for the Winter Games marks the closing of a chapter in the sport’s history. Along with teammate Jayna Hefford, they are the only two women to have played in every women’s ice hockey tournament at the Winter Games.

As Wickenheiser has battled injuries over the last few years, would a gold medal at Sochi serve as her swan song? Fans cannot help but wonder if this is mirroring Bobby Orr, whose last great moment with Team Canada, after years of knee injuries, resulted in a championship and MVP honors at the 1976 Canada Cup.

Former teammate Danielle Goyette was selected as Canada’s flag bearer for the 2006 Torino Winter Games. Marching behind Goyette, Wickenheiser would tease her, telling her not to trip. While she now has the honor bestowed upon her eight years later, it may also yield a result similar to Goyette’s.

Although some athletes believe that being the flag bearer is bad luck, Goyette proudly carried the flag, while contributing to Canada winning its second gold medal in women’s ice hockey at the Winter Games. It would also mark the twilight of her career, as she retired from competitive hockey one year later.

Of note, Wickenheiser has ambitions to become a doctor and at 35 years of age, hockey may quickly become part of her past. In addition, she will be running for election in the hopes of gaining one of two spots on the International Olympic Committee. At the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, American women’s ice hockey player Angela Ruggiero was successfully elected.

Despite the honor of being selected as Canada’s flag bearer, there is a slight sting of irony to the appointment. A few days ago, Wickenheiser was stripped of her captaincy, demoted to alternate captain. Canadian head coach Kevin Dineen appointed Caroline Ouellette as Canada’s new captain. To be fair, Ouellette has played with the Canadian team for 14 years and had never served as captain once.

Unfortunately, it is just a case of strange timing as the last few months have reflected a sullen series of events, leading to a winter of discontent for some hockey fans. Starting with the decision to release Tessa Bonhomme from Canada’s centralization camp, it would follow with the resignation of Dan Church. With due deference to Dineen, he has never coached female hockey, therefore, his hiring caught many off guard.

Hopefully, Wickenheiser’s appointment as flag bearer will turn the page and lead to better times ahead. Should Canada manage to claim its fourth consecutive gold medal in women’s hockey, the bumps and bruises along the way shall be soon forgotten and the legend of Wickenheiser as Canada’s great cornerstone and ambassador for the female game shall be solidified.

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