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Nathan Walker Jersey

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With 5:59 left in the second period, Australian winger Nathan Walker claimed his first goal with the St. Louis Blues during Saturday night’s tilt against the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins.

Volleying a bouncing pass out of mid-air from Jaden Schwartz, the newly promoted forward blasted a slapshot past goalie Matt Murray to give the Note a 2-1 lead.

This tally made history, with Walker being the first Australian to ever score for the franchise. Then again, he has a history of making history.

How exactly did Walker end up on the Blues’ top line, notching his second NHL goal? His path to hockey’s premier league takes many unexpected turns, starting with the fact that he was born in Cardiff, Wales. Not exactly the hotbed of hockey talent.

At the age of two, his father uprooted the Walker clan and transplanted them in sunny Sydney, Australia. Known for its hard-hitting rugby, time-honored cricket, and endless surfing, there are only 22 ice rinks sprinkled across the continent down under. That did not stop the young Walker from falling in love with the game:

It all started when my brother started playing. We slowly learned the hockey, and from there we went to Toronto for a tournament, went to the Hockey Hall of Fame and bought all the hockey DVDs. I think it just kick-started from back in the day when “The Mighty Ducks” was up and running.
Mike Vogel – NHL.com

Having worn out home-made goals of PVC pipes and growing frustrated by limited ice time, Walker’s outsized ambition lead him to do what can only be described as a “hockey walkabout.” He moved to the Czech Republic at the young age of 13 to play junior hockey against players his age and skill level.

From 2007-10, Walker laced up for HC Vitkovice U18, racking up 57 points in 62 games for the under-18 squad. Stints with the under-20 team allowed him to test his skill against older players, all while flashing his trademark speed. He proudly wore the green and gold sweater of his home nation, competing in the 2012 World Championship Division Group B in Krynica, Poland. Although the Mighty Roos failed to win a game in the tournament, he bagged two goals and turned his attention to playing in the United States.

The Youngstown Phantoms were Walker’s first taste of North American hockey and there was no jet lag in his game. Tallying 27 points in 20 games, he was quickly making a name for himself. However, due to the byzantine draft rules, he would have had to wait until the 2014 Draft to sign an NHL contract. Instead, the Aussie winger opted to play in the American Hockey League for the Washington Capitals affiliate, the Hershey Bears, signing in Sep. 2013.

With 5:59 left in the second period, Australian winger Nathan Walker claimed his first goal with the St. Louis Blues during Saturday night’s tilt against the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins.

Volleying a bouncing pass out of mid-air from Jaden Schwartz, the newly promoted forward blasted a slapshot past goalie Matt Murray to give the Note a 2-1 lead.
Craig Berube: “It was a big goal. Made us feel good about ourselves.” (‘NHL Post-game press conference’, NHL.com – 11/30/19)

This tally made history, with Walker being the first Australian to ever score for the franchise. Then again, he has a history of making history.
Long and Winding Road to the NHL

How exactly did Walker end up on the Blues’ top line, notching his second NHL goal? His path to hockey’s premier league takes many unexpected turns, starting with the fact that he was born in Cardiff, Wales. Not exactly the hotbed of hockey talent.

At the age of two, his father uprooted the Walker clan and transplanted them in sunny Sydney, Australia. Known for its hard-hitting rugby, time-honored cricket, and endless surfing, there are only 22 ice rinks sprinkled across the continent down under. That did not stop the young Walker from falling in love with the game:

It all started when my brother started playing. We slowly learned the hockey, and from there we went to Toronto for a tournament, went to the Hockey Hall of Fame and bought all the hockey DVDs. I think it just kick-started from back in the day when “The Mighty Ducks” was up and running.
Mike Vogel – NHL.com

Having worn out home-made goals of PVC pipes and growing frustrated by limited ice time, Walker’s outsized ambition lead him to do what can only be described as a “hockey walkabout.” He moved to the Czech Republic at the young age of 13 to play junior hockey against players his age and skill level.
Nathan Walker British Empire
Nathan Walker, HC Vitkovice U18
(hc-vitkovice.cz)

From 2007-10, Walker laced up for HC Vitkovice U18, racking up 57 points in 62 games for the under-18 squad. Stints with the under-20 team allowed him to test his skill against older players, all while flashing his trademark speed. He proudly wore the green and gold sweater of his home nation, competing in the 2012 World Championship Division Group B in Krynica, Poland. Although the Mighty Roos failed to win a game in the tournament, he bagged two goals and turned his attention to playing in the United States.
Phantoms, Bears, and Caps Oh My

The Youngstown Phantoms were Walker’s first taste of North American hockey and there was no jet lag in his game. Tallying 27 points in 20 games, he was quickly making a name for himself. However, due to the byzantine draft rules, he would have had to wait until the 2014 Draft to sign an NHL contract. Instead, the Aussie winger opted to play in the American Hockey League for the Washington Capitals affiliate, the Hershey Bears, signing in Sep. 2013.

That decision started a series of historic “firsts” for Sydney’s favorite son. Walker was the first Australian to play and score in the AHL. Following a solid season with the Bears, the Capitals drafted him in the third round of the 2014 NHL draft, 89th pick overall. Another first.

Then, on Oct. 7, 2017, Walker became the first Australian ever to play in the NHL. He even picked up his first NHL goal, deflecting a Devante Smith-Pelly wrister off of his backside and into the net.

After being picked up by the Edmonton Oilers on waivers and then reacquired by the Capitals just 18 days later, Walker became the first Australian to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs, in which he recorded an assist. (from ‘Capitals re-claim Aussie forward Nathan Walker off waivers,’ Washington Post, 12/20/2017)

And then the biggest first of them all came on June 7, 2018, as he joined his teammates in hoisting the Stanley Cup. This was a first for Australia and the first for the Washington organization, too. Though he did not get his name engraved on the sacred trophy, he did get a shout-out from then-Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnball.

Equally as rewarding were the complimentary words from Capitals then-head coach Barry Trotz. “He’s got a really unique skillset,” Trotz said of Walker. “He’s explosive, he’s quick, he gets on people, he causes havoc. It’s not nice to play against. A lot of those Australian qualities that you endear with those south of the equator, he has that mentality and mindset. He’s going to make you pay, he’s going to play hard against you and he’s going to have an effect on the ice.“
From One Champ to Another

Called up for just three games in the 2018-19 campaign, Walker decided it was time to part ways with the Capitals after six years. On July 1, he signed a two-year, two-way contract with the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues.
Nathan Walker skates for the Capitals against the Blues in a 2016 preseason game (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

So, how could a 25-year-old left winger with only 12 NHL games get a shot with defending Stanley Cup champs? By putting up impossible-to-ignore numbers for the Blues’ AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage. At the time of his call up, Walker led the Rampage with 12 goals and 22 points.

Yet, even with all the injuries to the Blues offense, there was some concern that Walker might get passed over due to his size. Listed at 5-foot-8, 186 pounds with speed to burn, he reminds many fans of the recently-traded Robby Fabbri, who couldn’t crack the lineup this season.

During his post-game interview on NHL.com following the Blues 5-2 win over the Penguins on Nov. 30, here’s what Craig Berube had to say about Walker:

This guy’s had a good year so far. He had a real good training camp. You know, (Walker) was really close to making the team. Probably maybe even did make the team. But we have the same team back from last year and there wasn’t room right away, so he went down to the American League and is leading their team in scoring, and maybe the league, I think, in scoring, so he’s played really well.
from ‘Blues win third straight, beat Penguins 5-2,’ St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 11/30/2019

Subbing for the injured Oskar Sundqvist, Walker made a pest of himself against the Dallas Stars and appeared to have scored his first NHL goal in two years, stuffing the puck home past netminder Ben Bishop. Unfortunately, that goal was waved off due to offsides.
Craig Berube, Jake Berube
St. Louis Blues head coach Craig Berube, along with his son Jake, carry the Stanley Cup (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

Walker wouldn’t have to wait too much longer to bask in the red glow of the goal lamp. The next night, he found himself skating with top-liners Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz during the second period. Playing on his off-wing, he sent a knuckle-puck bouncing over Murray’s pads, rippling the twine. Berube explained the line mash-up: “Schenn and Schwartz needed a guy to get in there a bit with more energy and bang around a little bit and create some loose pucks.”

With Sammy Blais and Vladimir Tarasenko out for the foreseeable future, the Aussie forward has the opportunity to change the course of his career. From his first three games with the Blues, it appears the man from down under wants to stay up for good.

Robert Thomas Jersey

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OBERLIN, Kan. — Robert Thomas Berkheimer, 82, died Wednesday (Dec. 11, 2019), in Oberlin.

He was born Feb. 18, 1937, in Miller, Neb., to Lee Cloyce (Jim) and Jennie Elnore Boyd Berkheimer.

He married Yukiko Segawa on Nov. 18, 1959, in Naha, Okinawa, Japan.

He was a United States Army veteran and former general manager of the KOMC (more recently KSNK) television station in Oberlin.

He was a member of McCook Christian Church.

He was preceded in death by his parents; brother, Kenneth and sister, Donna.

Survivors include his wife, Yuki; children, Tom (Melissa) of Johnston, Iowa, Jim (Heather) of Rapid City, S.D., and Patricia (Lance) Dixon of Kingman, Kan.; 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Services were today, Dec. 13, 2019, at Pauls Funeral Home in Oberlin.

Memorials can be given in his name to McCook Christian Church and the Golden Age Center, both in care of the funeral home. Online condolences can be left at Pauls Funeral Home is in charge of the arrangements.

Vladimir Tarasenko Jersey

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For the St. Louis Blues and their fans, Thanksgiving is a time for reflection and gratitude. A time for family and friends. It’s a time we can all take a minute or two and bring to mind the blessings we have in our lives today. It’s something that goes so far beyond sports.

It’s about more than just being mindful of all the blessings. It’s about showing that gratitude and blessing another fellow human. Be it a stranger, a family member, a friend, or a co-worker. I don’t want to miss the true nature of gratitude in this article without encouraging all of our readers at some point between now and the end of the year to reach out and bless someone else.

Nothing brings gratitude like unconditionally helping another. Sometimes it’s just listening to someone as they unload their burdens and worries. Sometimes it’s through a random act of kindness. Whatever the case we all know someone, somewhere who needs our help. So show some gratitude and help them.

If no one immediately comes to mind then as you think about it here are some things as Blues fans we can be grateful for.

As St. Louis Blues fans we have already endured some tough news this season with injuries and suspensions.

Although this news has been unwelcomed and unsavory there are some things we can certainly be grateful for.

It’s not the November 2018-19 season!

A year ago at this time, the Blues were fresh off firing then-head coach Mike Yeo and Craig Berube had taken over as the interim. The team was in the midst of spiraling its way to the bottom of the league record-wise.

This season, however, the Blues sit near the top of the Western Conference and near the top of the entire NHL. The Blues have a 14-5-6 record good for 34 points and tops in the Central Division and second in the Western Conference.

Robert Thomas is Displaying Top 6 Center Skills

With the Blues combatting injuries and looking for some more offense Craig Berube finally unleashed Robert Thomas as a center for the third line. In his brief time there at the writing of this piece, he has amassed 5 points in his last four games.

He is showing off his vision and playmaking abilities with ease and has really come on as the future superstar the Blues and their fans have been hoping for.

David Perron’s Wrist Shot

DP57 since his time in Vegas and here has really developed and improved his wrist shot to the tune of 11 goals in 25 games. With the unwelcomed and unfortunate news of Vladimir Tarasenko needing shoulder surgery and being on the shelf at a minimum of 5 weeks DP57’s number has been called often. Paired up with Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron has been given every opportunity to showcase his shot.

With O’Reilly setting the table Perron has shown not just the Blues, but the entire NHL that he has a shot that is hard, quick and more importantly incredibly deceptive. Thank goodness he altered the curve on his stick and has found this new shot.

He always had a good shot, but the way he is delivering now has added an element of deception that makes it very tough for the opposing goaltenders to pick up on the release. Keep firing the puck DP!

Jordan Binnington is a Bonafide NHL Starter

At the start of the season, everyone outside the Blues fanbase was questioning if Jordan Binnington was the real deal or not. Over the course of the first quarter of this season, all Binnington has done is go 11-4-4 with 1 shutout a 2.23 GAA and .923 SV%.

I don’t think there are any doubters or question marks left. The guy has ice water coursing through his veins and an unrelenting competitive hellfire burning in his chest. He is the biggest reason this team will make the playoffs and stay competitive in this early injury-plagued season.

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Zach Sanford, who missed the final two periods on Saturday night with an upper-body injury, didn’t skate with the Blues at practice on Sunday and probably won’t play on Tuesday against Buffalo.

Just who will is still unclear. Neither Oskar Sundqvist nor Alexander Steen practiced with the team on Sunday, and Austin Poganski was sent back to San Antonio on Sunday morning. That left the Blues with only 11 forwards.

“We’ll get somebody up here,” coach Craig Berube said.

The most likely candidate, with the team looking for an offensive boost at the moment, is Jordan Kyrou, who has been making good progress in San Antonio. The Rampage play in Toronto on Sunday afternoon, so it would be easy enough for Kyrou, or someone else, to play there, stay over and drive to Buffalo — it’s not far — and join the team there when they arrive on Monday afternoon.

As for Sanford, Berube said: “He couldn’t go out today. Right now, he’s probably not available. We’ll see. We’ll see how he does tomorrow.”

And about Sundqvist and Steen he said: “They are probably going to go on the trip just so they can skate with us. We’re going to skate them tomorrow then they’ll skate with the team Tuesday in Buffalo.”

The Blues had a function with season ticket holders, so they practiced on Sunday. The team — other than injured players — won’t practice on Monday before the team heads to Buffalo for a quick one-game trip.

Alex Pietrangelo Jersey

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Alex Pietrangelo might seem like the St. Louis Blues’ grizzled veteran captain by now, but it’s true he’s still just 29 years old.

He’s accomplished quite a bit in his 12 years with the Blues, but now he’s getting some more recognition off the ice.

Forbes Magazine has named Pietrangelo to their annual 30 Under 30 List of people in sports to watch for 2020.

The Blues’ defenseman was the only hockey player on Forbes’ list this year. Pietrangelo will actually turn 30 on January 30.

Other notable members of this year’s Forbes list include Nathan Chen, Julie Ertz, Paul George, Patrick Mahomes, Christian Pulisic, Klay Thompson and Christian Yelich.

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Blues player Colton Parayko is helping the Ronald McDonald House families shop for loved-ones at no cost this holiday season.

Today was the grand opening of the Ronald McDonald House charities McGift Shoppe. All of the items in the shop have been donated by members of the community. Parakyko met with the families and even helped them shop.

“I enjoy not only being a part of the Ronald McDonald House but spending time with the kids and their families. I just saw one of the families I’ve been with. We were just kind of talking how long we’ve know each other. Worth my time,” said Colton Parayko

Parayko also volunteers his time at the Ronald Mcdonald House by playing games with guest families and by preparing meals.

Jacob de la Rose Jersey

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DETROIT – These Detroit Red Wings will avoid being on the inglorious end of team and NHL history, thanks in large part to Robby Fabbri, Filip Zadina and Filip Hronek.

Each young player tallied three points Thursday to lift the Red Wings to a 5-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets at Little Caesars Arena.

The Red Wings (8-22-3) ended their 12-game losing streak (0-10-2), which was two short of the franchise record set in 1981-82 and five shy of the league record.

It was Detroit’s first victory in a month (Nov. 12, 4-3 in overtime at Anaheim).

Fabbri scored two goals and assisted on Zadina’s first of the season. Zadina assisted on both of Fabbri’s goals. Hronek sealed the outcome with an empty-net goal with 1:52 remaining and picked up a pair of assists.

Fabbri continues to pay big dividends after being acquired from St. Louis for fourth-line center Jacob de la Rose on Nov. 6. He has eight goals and 14 points in 16 games with the Red Wings.

Zadina continues to make a case to remain on the NHL roster. He has six points (goal, five assists) in his past five games.

Darren Helm also scored for Detroit. Jonathan Bernier made 26 saves.

Kyle Connor scored twice for Winnipeg (19-11-2), which was 13-3-2 in its past 18 games, including a 5-1 victory over the Red Wings on Tuesday.

The Red Wings were up 3-0 before Connor scored twice in the second period (7:16 and 12:57).

Zadina then scored a huge power-play goal with 23.8 seconds to play in the period, after Anthony Bitetto was called for roughing Adam Erne. Zadina’s shot from the right flank, his sweet spot, went off the post and in past Connor Hellebuyck.

The Red Wings outshot the Jets 14-5 and led 2-0 after the first period, one of their best 20-minute segments in some time.

Helm scored on a breakaway at 7:49, his fifth of the season. Nathan Beaulieu coughed up the puck in the neutral zone and then collided with a linesman.

Fabbri scored his first of the game at 13:47, when his pass attempted deflected in off of Jets defenseman Neal Pionk.

Fabbri scored again at 3:35 of the second when the puck bounced in off of Pionk.

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Freshly recalled from the AHL, young Blues forwards Jordan Kyrou and Austin Poganski are expected to make their respective debuts tonight in Buffalo.

Kyrou, 21, will be making his 2019-20 season debut. For Poganski, 23, it will be his NHL debut.

Kyrou played 16 games with the Blues after making the club out of training camp a year ago and spent the rest of the season with the San Antonio Rampage. He suffered a kneecap injury requiring surgery late in the season and was limited to skating alone in 2019 Blues training camp while rehabbing. He was assigned to San Antonio and has been a prolific scorer, collecting 15 points (nine goals, six assists) in 16 games.

A 2016 second-round draft pick, Kyrou has 58 points (25 goals, 33 assists) in 64 career AHL regular-season games.

Poganski was a healthy scratch for five games with the Blues during his previous call-up, which ended Sunday so that he could play a game with San Antonio and shake off rust. He and Kyrou were recalled Monday.

Poganski, a fourth-round draft pick in 2014, has 13 points (two goals, 11 assists) in 22 games with the Rampage this season.

Backup Jake Allen, who took over for Jordan Binnington in the first period of the Blues’ 5-2 loss to the Maple Leafs on Saturday, will start in goal.

The projected lineup:

FORWARDS

David Perron – Ryan O’Reilly – Tyler Bozak

Jaden Schwartz – Brayden Schenn – Jordan Kyrou

Ivan Barbashev – Robert Thomas – Troy Brouwer

Mackenzie MacEachern – Jacob de la Rose – Austin Poganski

DEFENSEMEN

Colton Parayko – Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester – Justin Faulk

Vince Dunn – Robert Bortuzzo

GOALIE

Jake Allen

Tony Twist Jersey

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He was selected by the St. Louis Blues in the ninth round of the 1988 NHL Entry Draft, No. 177 overall. After skating with the Blues for the 1989–1990 season, he played four seasons with the Quebec Nordiques (later relocated to Colorado). He became a free agent in 1994 and returned to the Blues, playing there until July 1999, when he broke his pelvis in a motorcycle accident in St. Louis and was unable to resume his NHL career. Known for his devastating punches, he battered many of the league’s top enforcers during his career.

In the Spawn comic book series, Todd McFarlane created a mob enforcer character named Antonio “Tony Twist” Twistelli, who McFarlane acknowledged was named after Tony Twist. Twist learned about the character through his mother in British Columbia, who had a group of boys arrive to her house with Tony Twist-related Spawn items in 1997. After this incident, Twist viewed the Spawn animated series that had earlier aired on HBO from May to June 1997, he subsequently remarked “I’m in pink thong underwear, smoking a cigar, ordering the kidnapping of a child while two women are naked on the couch making love to each other. I obviously didn’t want any part of that. Even if I was a good guy I wouldn’t have participated. You’ve got kids being kidnapped, you’ve got nudity, you’ve got police raping women. It’s nothing I want to be affiliated with.” On October 31, 1997, Twist filed an anonymous John Doe lawsuit against Todd McFarlane Productions, and related parties such as HBO, for defamation of character and appropriation of his name without permission. The lawsuit was filed anonymously in order to keep publicity surrounding it to a minimum.

He was initially awarded $24 million by a St. Louis, Missouri judge in 2000. Sean Phillips, a former executive of a sports nutrition company, testified for Twist, stating that he withdrew a $100,000 endorsement deal, only after learning about the despicable nature of the Tony Twist character. However, the $24 million ruling would be reversed in November 2000, with McFarlane joking to journalists “He’s got to return that yacht now.”The trial continued, and Twist later won $15 million in 2004 when a St. Louis jury found Todd McFarlane Productions had profited from Twist’s likeness.The verdict was upheld after two appeals in June 2006.In 2007, Twist and McFarlane settled the lawsuit out of court for $5 million.

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TORONTO – Lorsque Hayley Wickenheiser a téléphoné au domicile de ses parents, à Calgary, pour leur annoncer qu’elle venait d’obtenir sa place au Temple de la renommée, la grande dame du hockey attendait une réaction, disons… un peu plus enflammée.

« Nous sommes déjà au courant. Ça fait trois heures que la nouvelle est diffusée en boucle par tous les médias », a répliqué son père Tom.

L’effet-surprise était peut-être passé, voire raté. Mais la fierté de Tom et Marylin grimpait toujours en flèche. Une fierté qui était encore évidente samedi lorsque les parents de la septième femme à faire son entrée au Temple de la renommée étaient assis dans les premières rangées du Grand Hall avec les autres amateurs venus croiser et poser des questions aux nouveaux intronisés.

Unanimement qualifiée de meilleure joueuse de l’histoire du hockey, ce n’était qu’une question de temps avant que Wickenheiser ne vienne rejoindre Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Gordie Howe ou Bobby Orr qui sont ses égaux du côté masculin. Elle fait d’ailleurs son entrée dès sa première année d’admissibilité après l’attente minimale de trois ans imposée après que les candidats eurent disputé leurs dernières saisons en carrière. Une période que les dirigeants du Temple auraient pu écarter comme ils l’ont fait lors de la retraite de Wayne Gretzky tant Wickenheiser a dominé son sport.

Mais bon!

Parce qu’elle vit au même rythme endiablé qu’elle jouait au hockey, Hayley Wickenheiser a troqué son équipement pour un sarrau dès le moment où elle a accroché ses patins. Elle a aussitôt pris la direction de la faculté de médecine de l’Université de Calgary pour y entreprendre les études qui lui permettront de devenir urgentologue.

C’est d’ailleurs parce qu’elle était en pleine simulation de réanimation de patients en arrêt cardio-respiratoire en juin dernier que Wickenheiser a appris trois heures après ses parents et le reste de la planète hockey son invitation à franchir les portes du Temple de la renommée.

Meilleure façon de boucler la boucle

Wickenheiser accueille bien sûr cette invitation avec de grandes doses d’honneur et de fierté. Mais elle l’accueille aussi comme le meilleur moyen de faire le deuil sur sa carrière sensationnelle.

« Lorsque j’ai décidé d’accrocher les patins, je me suis consacrée totalement à ma formation médicale. Je ne me suis jamais vraiment offert une période de transition qui m’aurait permis de faire le point sur ce que j’avais accompli avant de tourner la page pour mieux amorcer ma nouvelle vie. Mon intronisation et toutes les festivités au programme en fin de semaine me permettent de tirer un trait sur ma carrière. Je trouve que ça donne une saveur supplémentaire à tout ce qui m’arrive », expliquait vendredi la plus grande joueuse de hockey de l’histoire.

Née en Saskatchewan en 1978, Hayley Wickenheiser développe rapidement une passion pour le hockey. Une passion qui la propulse sur les mêmes patinoires que les garçons avec qui elle doit en découdre pour avoir la chance de jouer du hockey organisé.

À 15 ans, la cousine de Doug Wickenheiser, premier choix du Canadien et toute première sélection de la cuvée 1980, rejoint des femmes qui deviendront vite ses idoles au sein de l’équipe canadienne. Une équipe dont elle endossera l’uniforme pendant 21 ans. Période au cours de laquelle elle marquera 168 buts, obtiendra 211 passes et récoltera 379 points. Des résultats qui représentent bien sûr des records.

Hommages à France St-Louis et Danielle Goyette

« J’étais une adolescente au milieu d’un groupe de femmes qui jouait pour l’amour du hockey. Elles ne recevaient pas un sou pour jouer. En fait, elles payaient pratiquement de leur poche pour jouer. Ma première grande source d’inspiration a été France St-Louis qui a fait fi des menaces de perdre son emploi d’enseignante pour jouer avec l’équipe canadienne. Elle avait le choix : son travail ou le hockey. Elle a choisi le hockey. Ça m’a toujours impressionné. Inspiré. J’ai aussi eu la chance d’évoluer au sein du même trio que Danielle Goyette qui est la meilleure joueuse de hockey avec qui j’ai évolué ou que j’ai affrontée », a témoigné Hayley Wickenheiser lors de la rencontre avec les partisans, samedi, dans le Grand Hall du Temple de la renommée.

Wickenheiser a reçu la plus belle ovation lors de la présentation des nouveaux intronisés. C’est aussi elle qui a eu droit aux plus beaux témoignages.

« Je suis un fan de hockey depuis toujours et je dois te dire que tu n’es pas seulement ma joueuse préférée, mais mon joueur préféré tout court. Tu m’as fait découvrir le hockey féminin qui, à bien des égards, est beaucoup plus beau que celui qu’on nous offre dans la LNH. Ma femme et moi avons eu quatre filles et nous avons nommé notre troisième Hayley en ton honneur », lui a confié l’un de ses admirateurs.

Cet admirateur lui a ensuite demandé si elle croyait que des femmes pourraient un jour se tailler une place dans la Ligue américaine, voire la LNH.

« J’ai atteint les rangs professionnels en Suède et en Finlande dans des ligues dont le niveau de jeu est au niveau de la Ligue américaine. Sur le plan du talent, de la vision, de la qualité des passes, des tirs et même du patin, je crois qu’il serait possible pour plus de femmes de rivaliser avec des hommes aujourd’hui. Et ce le sera davantage dans le futur. Mais il faut aussi se rendre à l’évidence : regardez la stature des gars qui m’entourent. Regardez la grosseur de leurs mains, de leurs épaules. La force physique joue un rôle important au hockey ce qui rend les comparaisons injustes entre les hommes et les femmes. L’avenir du hockey féminin ne passe pas par des faces à faces avec les hommes », a ensuite plaidé Wickenheiser.

Vers une LNH féminine

Parlant de cet avenir, il passe par où alors que les meilleures joueuses ont simplement décidé de boycotter la plus importante ligue féminine en attente de conditions salariales plus satisfaisantes.

« J’appuie les joueuses dans leur quête de meilleures conditions. Elles sont les meilleures au monde et elles veulent vivre d’une façon décente de leur sport. Je crois que les succès du hockey féminin passent par un regroupement sous la gouverne de la LNH au sein d’une ligue qui regrouperait les meilleures joueuses au monde. Comme la LNH. Je sais que le commissaire Gary Bettman suit le dossier de près. Je sais qu’il est sensible à l’avenir du hockey féminin. C’est un homme intelligent, qui veut réussir. Je suis donc convaincu qu’il prendra le temps nécessaire pour bien analyser la question et trouver les options qui seront les mieux en mesure d’offrir au hockey féminin la plate-forme nécessaire pour que ça fonctionne. »

Le palmarès d’Hayley Wickenheiser dépasse l’entendement. Il dépasse aussi les cadres du hockey alors qu’elle a reçu le titre d’officier de l’Ordre du Canada (2011) en plus d’être élue au sein de la commission des athlètes olympiques en 2014 et de faire partie de la haute direction du comité mis sur pieds à Calgary afin d’obtenir les Jeux paralympiques de 2026.

Sur la glace, Wickenheiser revendique sept médailles d’or et six d’argent au Championnat du monde.

Elle revendique aussi quatre médailles d’or olympiques (2002, 2006, 2010, 2014) et une médaille d’argent obtenue aux Jeux de 1998. Elle a prononcé le serment des athlètes aux Jeux de Vancouver en 2010 en plus d’être porte-drapeau lors des cérémonies d’ouverture des Jeux de Sotchi en 2014. Des Jeux qu’elle a disputés en dépit d’une fracture au pied gauche.

À cette époque, les Canadiennes et les Américaines étaient seules sur les patinoires internationales. La rivalité qui les opposait et leur grand talent étaient sensationnels. Mais le manque de compétition nuisait au rayonnement de leur sport.

Ce qui n’est plus le cas aujourd’hui alors que la Finlande a repoussé le Canada au troisième rang lors du dernier Championnat du monde de hockey féminin.

Une source de satisfaction pour Wickenheiser?

« Je ne me réjouirai jamais du fait que le Canada soit au troisième rang. Mais oui c’est une grande victoire pour le hockey féminin de voir que d’autres nations se sont hissées au rang du Canada et des USA. Notre programme a besoin d’être fouetté un peu. Tout comme le programme de la Suède qui stagne après des années intéressantes. Mais pour moi, le fait de voir de plus en plus de jeunes filles jouer au hockey ailleurs qu’au Canada et aux États-Unis est une très bonne nouvelle. C’est surtout nécessaire pour la survie de mon sport. Quand je jouais dans les rangs professionnels en Finlande, la fille d’un de mes entraîneurs commençait à patiner. Elle n’avait que cinq ans. Aujourd’hui, Matilda Nillson défend les couleurs de la Finlande avec son équipe nationale. Des Matilda Nilsson il y en a de plus de plus dans le hockey féminin. Et ça, c’est certainement un très bel héritage pour moi et toutes les autres femmes qui avons contribué à mettre ce sport à l’avant-plan. Mais il reste encore beaucoup de travail à faire.»

Du travail qu’Hayley Wickenheiser pourrait accepter d’abattre tout en travaillant comme urgentologue et comme membre de l’état-major des Maple Leafs de Toronto au sein de l’équipe de responsables du développement des joueurs.