TORONTO — Hayley Wickenheiser, one of the top players in women’s hockey history, joined the Maple Leafs‘ front office on Thursday.
The longtime star of Canada’s national team is the NHL club’s new assistant director of player development.
She will monitor prospects in the Western Hockey League and is expected to travel to Toronto a few times a month to work with players on both the Leafs and the American Hockey League’s Marlies. The 40-year-old Wickenheiser is studying medicine at the University of Calgary.
“The biggest reason why I was intrigued about this role is that [GM] Kyle [Dubas] was interested in me — not to hire a woman, but to hire someone who could do the job,” Wickenheiser said during a conference call. “I feel pretty confident in my abilities to be in this role and that I belong and can handle myself with anyone.”
Wickenheiser won four Olympic gold medals. She retired as a player in 2017, finishing as the career scoring leader for the Canadian team.
“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. Every time you step on the ice, whether it’s with a player or a coach, you can always learn something or take something.”
Wickenheiser said it’s important for her to get back to the sport in which she helped blaze a trail for women and girls.
“I love being around people that are the best at what they do,” she said. “To work for the Toronto Maple Leafs is a pretty huge honor, and it’s a big responsibility.”
Dubas said diversifying the staff — the team already employs former Olympian Barbara Underhill as a power skating coach — can only help the franchise.
“Research shows that the more diverse your organization, the better your decision-making, the better your operation in general,” he said. “If you’re only hiring white males, and I’m saying that as a white male, you’re probably leaving a lot on the table in terms of where your organization can go.”
For now, Wickenheiser wants to focus on doing the job properly rather than thinking about what it means.
“It’s about being competent and being good at what you do,” she said. “I also understand that there will be a lot of young girls that will see this as knocking down barriers for them to maybe dream to do the same thing.”