“We’re looking for the best people, period,” said new Maple Leafs General Manager Kyle Dubas at a press conference on Thursday.
Hayley Wickenheiser, one of hockey’s most recognizable figures, has been hired as Assistant Director of Player Development for Toronto’s NHL team. She’s perfect for it.
Wickenheiser’s name has been on Leafs fans’ tongues since she attended development camp as a guest coach in June of this year. It has since been speculated about whether she would be given a permanent role in the organization, and what that role would look like. The announcement of her hiring is exciting for Toronto as Wickenheiser is the perfect person for the job. She’s also a woman.
The Maple Leafs went on a reputation-changing campaign starting in 2014 with the hiring of President Brendan Shanahan. Since then there have been exciting moves, from acquiring coach Mike Babcock, to the somewhat surprising promotion of 32-year-old Kyle Dubas to General Manager. Trickling down from that came exciting player acquisitions, including Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, and, Dubas’ first order of business, John Tavares. The Leafs are new, the Leafs are young, and the Leafs are good. Talented veteran Wickenheiser is a perfect addition to the squad.
Wickenheiser’s impressive career started at age 5 in her hometown of Shaunavon, Sask., playing minor league with the boys. At age 15 she was named to Canada’s National Women’s Team, and remained a member until her retirement from playing in 2017. In 1994 she played in, and won, her first world championship. She holds 18 medals: four Olympic golds, an Olympic silver, seven World Championship golds, and six silvers. In 2002 and 2006, at back-to-back Olympic games, Wickenheiser was the top goal scorer and named tournament MVP; she is the all-time top Olympic goal scorer.
There is more to Wickenheiser than her on-ice career. Aside from playing more men’s professional hockey games than Babcock and Dubas combined (she played in Sweden and Finland), Wickenheiser is not new to working with professional men’s hockey players.
After her impressive performance in the 1998 Olympics, Bobby Clarke, Men’s Team Canada General Manager, invited her to participate in the Philadelphia Flyers rookie camps for the 1998 and 1999 seasons. After retiring from playing in 2017, she ran practices for the North Korean men’s and women’s teams following the PyeongChang Winter Games in February of 2018. And, again, she also acted as guest coach for the Leafs in June. Now she’ll be working in the team’s front office.
“I feel pretty confident in my abilities to be in this role, and that I belong and can handle myself with anyone. For me, it’s that I have a job to do. I have a role to take on to help the Leafs try to win and that’s how I’m approaching it, no different than I did when I was a player,” said Wickenheiser. "I know how those guys think, how they approach the game, day in and day out,” she said. “I can help players get better and understand what it takes to get better."
Wickenheiser’s on-ice intelligence, expert skill at various levels of the game, and experience on and off the ice make her a perfect candidate to work with this malleable team. Credit goes to Dubas for not only being open to diversity in the male dominated league, but also for managing to acquire a heavyweight like Wickenheiser. “If you’re only hiring white males – I say that as a white male – then you’re leaving a lot on the table,” he said.
Wickenheiser will be working with Scott Pellerin, who has been promoted to Senior Director of Player Development, and Stephane Robidas, Director of Player Development.
Hayley has shattered every record she has been able to shoot for and is now the NHL’s highest-ranking woman in a front-office role. Keep your head up when she’s around.