Wickenheiser joins CIS

It’s a pretty safe bet that the University of Calgary women’s hockey team will win more than seven games this year.

Last week, the UC Dinos — who finished 7-15-2 last season — announced that Hayley Wickenheiser, arguably the most accomplished and celebrated women’s hockey player of all time, would be joining the team for the coming season.

The three-time Olympic gold medallist has enrolled in the University of Calgary’s kinesiology program and having never previously played hockey at a post-secondary institution is eligible under Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) rules to play for the Dinos.

Since 2001, the University of Alberta Pandas, who won the national championship last season, have owned the Canada West conference, finishing atop the standings every year. However, with a star like Wickenheiser entering the fray, that could easily change.

“Calgary will be an instant contender,” said Laurier women’s hockey head coach Rick Osborne.

“I think the West will be a very difficult conference to come out of this year, Alberta will have their hands full staying ahead of Manitoba and Saskatchewan and now with Calgary in the mix.”

However, many have questioned how a 32-year-old iconic figure of women’s hockey will fit in on a team comprised mostly of players between the ages of 18 and 22.

“She’s definitely a strong personality,” said Laurier goalie Liz Knox, who experienced Wickenheiser’s leadership style first-hand while practicing with the national team last summer.

“She leads by example on the ice and she’s very vocal off of it. There’s definitely going to be a big adjustment for the younger players, but once [the Dinos] get used to having her on the team she’ll be a terrific resource for them.”

Knox also noted how important it will be for the Dinos to avoid leaning too heavily on Wickenheiser.

“Obviously her on-ice abilities are extraordinary, but in team sports one player can’t completely turn things around,” she said. “It’ll be interesting to see how things work out with the team dynamics over there.”

Despite a few arguments that someone as old as 32 shouldn’t be able to play in the CIS, most agree that the popularity and exposure Wickenheiser will generate will be a positive for the game.

“We’ve always wanted a marquee women’s sport to promote and have national media attention,” said Laurier athletics director Peter Baxter. “[Wickenheiser] will put women’s hockey in a national media light and probably show young women that CIS is high-calibre hockey. Hayley wouldn’t be playing if it was a sub-standard league.”

That elevated media attention could be of particular benefit to Laurier, as in March the Waterloo Recreation Complex and WLU will play host to the women’s hockey national championship. If Wickenheiser and the Dinos earn one of the two spots available to the Canada West conference the affect on ticket sales should be dramatic.

“I’ll certainly be cheering for the University of Calgary to get to nationals,” said Baxter. “We’d love that from a ticket-selling standpoint.”