Captain on top of world

PAUL FRIESEN

, Last Updated: 7:49 AM ET

Hayley Wickenheiser is widely considered the best female hockey player in the world. At 28, she's already helped Team Canada win five world championship gold medals and two Olympic gold medals. In 2003, while with a Finnish Division II team, she became the first woman to score a goal in a men's pro league. These days, she's the captain of the Canadian team trying to maintain its place atop the women's hockey summit at the world championship in Winnipeg, April 3-10.

Sun Media's Paul Friesen recently spoke with Wickenheiser about the game, the tournament -- and what could stop Canada from winning gold.

SUN Media: When did you first dream of playing hockey for your country?

Wickenheiser: We had moved to Calgary when I was 12 .... I flicked on the TV, and the (1990) world championships were on. It was the first time I really knew that women played hockey. I played with boys all the way up until then. It was like the sky parted and the sun shone. All of a sudden your path in life is carved out before you if you do everything you're supposed to do. I felt I would have a future there.

SUN Media:: Your first world championship was in 1994. How much has the game changed since?

Wickenheiser: The growth of the game, grass roots, is incredible, in Canada especially. The level of players out there ... they're playing at a younger age so they're just that much better, that much younger. And they're pushing for spots that much harder. To stay on the national team for a long time is going to be harder and harder to do.

SUN Media: This is the fourth time you'll have played a world championship in Canada. What's that like?

Wickenheiser: Sometimes in European countries there's not the same passion for the game. There's not the same level of excitement for the world championship there, as here. It feels almost like an Olympic Games when it's in Canada.

SUN Media: Canada has won the gold medal at eight of nine world championships. Would it be good for women's hockey if you were to lose?

Wickenheiser: Not in Canada, though. For the big picture, when Canada loses it's probably always good for women's hockey, globally. But not in Canada. Nobody wants to be part of that team. Not when I'm around.

SUN Media: How can your team be beaten?

Wickenheiser: If we beat ourselves. And if another country gets great goaltending and comes up big. The U.S. has great skills. It's not that we're so much better. It's just that we, collectively, can play a better game. If we play the way we can, we're very tough to beat.

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FAST FACTS WITH HAYLEY WICKENHEISER

Q: Favourite junk food?

A: Chocolate. Anything chocolate.

Q: What three people, living or dead, would you like to have dinner with?

A: Oprah Winfrey, Bono and President Clinton.

Q: Favourite movie?

A: Life is Beautiful.

Q: Favourite book?

A: I have a lot. Power vs. Force. (David R. Hawkins)

Q: Favourite TV show?

A: 24.

Q: Which of your teammates on the national team would fare best on Survivor?

A: Sami Jo Small. Because she's got an answer for everything.

Q: Which would fare best on Canadian Idol?

A: Maybe Sarah Vaillancourt, because she's a good drama queen. She's got some moves.

Q: Teammate you would want beside you in a barroom fight?

A: Colleen Sostorics.

Q: Household chore you hate the most?

A: A tossup between laundry and dishes. Probably dishes.

Q: Your best hockey moment?

A: 2002 gold medal, Salt Lake.

Q: Worst hockey moment?

A: 1998 gold medal lost, Nagano.

Q: Sport you like to play when you're not playing hockey?

A: Cross-country mountain biking.

Q: Something about you most people don't know?

A: I am taking a trip to Rwanda in May for a charity called Right to Play.

Q: Best player in the NHL today?

A: Sidney Crosby.

Q: Best player of all time?

A: Wayne Gretzky.

Q: Best player in women's hockey, present company excluded?

A: All-time, probably Cammie Granato. Right now, maybe Jenny Potter of the American team. I've got to say a Canadian girl. Cherie Piper is a top player in the world, too.

Q: Opponent you'd most like to drop the gloves with?

A: Any of the U.S. players.

Q: Best thing about playing women's hockey?

A: Playing for Canada. And playing on a really great, fun team, the national team.

Q: One thing you'd like to change about women's hockey?

A: I'd like to have it more professionalized, more corporate support. And I'd like to have a national championship.


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