Swede situation for Hayley

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:53 AM ET

The season hasn't officially started, but Hayley Wickenheiser is already reporting her stint in Sweden a success.

"It's probably the best experience I've had so far being over in Europe," said the national women's hockey team icon, who signed to play with a men's third-division squad this season. "I'm getting to play a lot of minutes -- probably 18 to 20 so far in the games we've played -- and had the chance to get some ice time and points early on and the chance to have a coaching staff trust you, be another player on the team.

"It's the best set-up I think I've had in Europe so far."

Wickenheiser returned to her hometown for a five-day national team camp, but will quickly depart for Eskilstuna Linden, making it home in time for the club's home opener next Wednesday.

It's the 29-year-old's third foray to Europe, having spent parts of two seasons in Finland a few years back, and an opportunity she's relishing.

"These guys are pretty open-minded," she said. "Not that there was an agenda before, but they see me as a player and they have the background with elite league and NHL experience coaching and playing and know the game really well, so they can see what I can bring and can't bring to the game, and use that to the advantage of the team.

"For me, that's good, because I know if I perform, I'll get the chance to play and know if I don't, I won't get the minutes.

"That's all you want as a hockey player."

Wickenheiser and Flames captain Jarome Iginla were yesterday announced as ambassadors for Samsung's Get Together for the Game campaign, a grassroots program in conjunction with Hockey Canada.

Staring at a 48-game regular season, and all the ups and downs that can come with that, Wickenheiser is optimistic her time in Sweden will be a lift to her game for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

"To be in a situation where I know every day I have to be at my best to perform and to physically compete, going into 2010 in Vancouver with the pressure and the spotlight that's going to bring, I think this sort of mimics that on a daily basis for me," she said.

Besides, that tournament -- a chance for Canada to claim a third consecutive gold -- is closer than you think.

"It's coming fast. Being over in Europe, the talk has already switched to the winter Olympics two years down the road," Wickenheiser said.

"For us in the women's game, that's the Stanley Cup. It's the biggest event. It really hits home."


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