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More on Hayley Wickenheiser


TRIBE Member
Interesting article speculating on her success / failure playing in a mens league, including a chart listing physiological advantages and disadvantages.

I think she'll lose some teeth, but I think she'll troupe on and ultimately succeed.


Why Wickenheiser's in a league of her own


Friday, January 10, 2003 – Print Edition, Page A1

CALGARY -- Put them in a lineup and they'd all look to be about the same size. Hayley Wickenheiser. Theo Fleury. Martin Straka. Ray Whitney.

Mr. Fleury, Mr. Straka and Mr. Whitney have combined to score more than 775 goals and 2,000 career points as a trio of National Hockey League small fry. So why does Ms. Wickenheiser, 5 foot 9, 170 pounds and the best female hockey player in the world, have to try out for a second-division Finnish team to play against men? Why not the NHL?

Some experts believe Ms. Wickenheiser will have a difficult time even in Finland, not because she lacks ability but because of the differences between the male and female body when it comes to muscle mass and strength.

"You look at the nature of the game, regardless of the level, and it's 45-second, all-out, explosive shifts. The question is whether she can maintain that pace 22 times a game," said Howard Green, a kinesiology professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario.

"Over all, your skills, co-ordination and timing have to be so precise in hockey."

"If there's a breakdown in that, then the skills go," Prof. Green said. "You get too much fatigue and your cognitive abilities go as well. You can't respond to the cues in front of you."

Mr. Green said that, on average, he wouldn't expect Ms. Wickenheiser to have the same explosive skating power as the men she'll face playing for Kirkkonummi Salamat. Having done studies in muscle research, Mr. Green said both male and female athletes have a certain percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibre, the key that turns on an athlete's ignition power. The difference is that men's fast fibre is larger. The male heart is also more effective in pumping a greater volume of blood, per beat, through the body.

None of this will come as a surprise to Ms. Wickenheiser when she steps on the ice tomorrow. Wally Kozak, the Canadian Hockey Association's head scout and development manager for women's hockey, has been in daily contact with Ms. Wickenheiser via e-mail. She wrote him that the biggest difference she has noticed so far is the speed of the men's game and how quickly decisions are made.

Ms. Wickenheiser, the star of the Canadian women's national team, will become the first female, other than a goaltender, to play professionally against men.

"I don't think there'll ever be a woman playing in the NHL, not unless they go to the larger European-sized surfaces," said Mr. Kozak, who coached the Japanese women's team at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

"That's why Hayley's in the right place and why she'll do well. I think she'll score and complement the offence. She's extremely skilled and makes great plays. She'll contribute."

Ms. Wickenheiser has shown a lot of heart throughout her career in women's hockey, winning world championships and an Olympic gold medal. But her skating has always looked laborious. Moving at a faster pace on a larger European ice surface will be a daunting task against stronger, more experienced players. Jim Nill, the Detroit Red Wings' assistant general manager, called it "a step beyond" for Ms. Wickenheiser.

"I think she'll notice a difference in the speed of the game. Strength will be an issue but not so much in terms of contact. There will be more rubouts [as opposed to direct hits from opposing players] and guys will use their sticks for tugging and hooking," he said.

The fight for respect, as much as for survival, is the fight of all small players.

Terry Kane, a former physiotherapist with the Calgary Flames and the Canadian national team, said smaller men who have thrived in the NHL are those who honed their skills in other areas.

"I remember when Cliff Ronning [5 foot 8, 165 pounds] was with the national team. He got hit once and was flipped in the air. By the time he hit the ice he was yelling at the ref that there were too many men on the ice -- and he was right. Even upside down in the air he had that view of the ice."

Mr. Straka, the Pittsburgh Penguins' 5-foot-9, 178-pound winger, said being small in a big man's game means "using things [such as] quickness. If you are quick enough, you can succeed."

Darcy Tucker, the Toronto Maple Leafs' 5-foot-11, 185-pound agitator, said he has learned to live by wits and courage. "To survive . . . you have to use your smarts. You have to use your head and try to anticipate things," said Mr. Tucker, who admitted anything was possible, including a woman one day playing in the NHL.

"More power to [Ms. Wickenheiser]. I sure wouldn't be the guy who tries to stop her."

And yet, Mr. Tucker was quick to add: "Are you going to ask me if I'd let up [on her]? No way. That's not how to play the game."

One of the boys?

Though she is the same size as a few NHL players, many wonder how Hayley Wickenheiser (5 foot 9, 170 pounds) will fare playing in a men's hockey league.

How women in general compare to men

While they can be the same size and weight as men, women have some major anatomical differences - some are a help, others a hindrance.

Disadvantage: Bone mass

Women have less bone mass than men, making them lighter.

Advantage: Centre of gravity

Women have a lower centre of gravity, which adds to their level of stability on skates.

Disadvantage: Lungs

Most women's lungs are roughly 25-30% smaller than men's, so they can process oxygen as efficiently.

Disadvantage: Muscle mass

Women have about 50% less muscle mass than men due to their lack of testosterone, a key hormone in building muscle tissue. Females are at a disadvantage in strength, speed and power, and lack the extra weight that muscles add.

Disadvantage: Body frame

Women generally have smaller shoulders and limbs. Trying to match men's stride length and arm reach means females are stretching to the extremes, putting their joints under greater stress.

Disadvantage: Heart

Generally, a woman's heart is about 25% smaller than a man's. Her heart pumps less blood with each beat, which causes earlier fatigue.

Advantage: Body heat

Women sweat less, lose less heat through evaporation, and reach higher body temperatures before sweating starts, which helps deter dehydration.