When Wickenheiser, 34. announced over a year ago she was pursuing a masters degree in kinesiology at the University of Calgary and she would play on the University's hockey team, some Canadians asked why? Why would a four-time Olympic gold medallist who is one of the best female hockey players in the world play on a team that on a good night gets maybe 300 fans in the stands?
Wearing his autographed Team Canada jersey and sitting behind the Dino's bench Eberts is a proud grandpa watching his granddaughter play the sport she loves. “She has made me proud many times,” he said. “The determination and desire that she has for staying in shape and for playing hockey is what makes her great.”
If anyone had any doubts if Wickenheiser is actually in it to play or to just be eligible for a sports scholarship they should really come to a game and see for themselves. It takes a certain athlete with character to put aside Olympic gold medals and sponsorship endorsements to strap on a pair of skates and play for the love of the game.
On this night’s game she played more than 30 minutes, scoring one goal and assisting another. The final score was 2-0 for the U of C. Anyone sitting in the crowd that night had no doubt of Wickenheiser's role on her team.
“What I like about [university hockey], it’s not the highest level I have played at, but a tight game like this six minutes left and no one has scored, you can get in to some pretty tight situations. Whether it’s your last or first in this league every game is a dog fight. I like that challenge every night that I have to try and bring it and the team is relying on me. It has been a good transition coming back from Europe,” said Wickenheiser.
The U of C is currently ranked first in the CIS West division and third nationally, right behind the University of Laurier and the University of McGill. As for Wickenheiser, she is third in CIS West for goals and fifth for assists.
“I have enjoyed my two years here. I think our team keeps getting better and it will be nice to try and build a team that could win a national championship, so that’s a goal I have for this program,” said Wickenheiser. “I will play one more year here and then centralize for the Olympics and see what happens after that.”
Losing for the second night in a row did not put a smile on the face of head coach of the U of R hockey team Sarah Hodges, nor did seeing Wickenheiser.
“We really don't care that much. Every team has a good player, so we pretty much approach it the same way we do any other team,” said Hodges. She went on to say that the coaching staff did not expect Wickenheiser to play, “She is so sporadic when she plays [...] she has been kind of hit or miss. Partly through the national team stuff but then some other things she misses games for.”
According to CIS West Stats Wickenheiser has missed only two of the team’s 15 games this year.
“Whether it's 20,000 or one person in the stands you try and play the same way. You always try and think that there are people there that have never seen women's hockey before and you try and showcase the game and try and be the best you can be. You don't really notice the crowd all that much,” said Wickenheiser.
As for John Eberts and all her other fans it’s another chance to see her play for only a bargain 12 bucks a ticket.