ST. JOHN’S' N.L. — Hayley Wickenheiser has a dilemma.
The captain of Canada’s National Women’s Team isn’t scoring as much as she used to. Wickenheiser isn’t shooting the puck as often as she once did' either.
She’s preoccupied these days with generating scoring plays' not finishing them. Assists beget goals' so it’s not as though Wickenheiser isn’t contributing offensively. But Canada has trouble scoring goals against the archrival Americans and could use her powerful drives to the net and heavy shot.
Wickenheiser appears to feel conflicted about it. She shakes her head and sighs when discussing passing versus shooting the puck.
"I’m just not shooting as much as I should. That’s it'" she said. "I think I make plenty of plays. I have a lot of people telling me I need to shoot the puck more.
"It’s mostly just a mindset. I certainly know there are a number of times in a game where I should take the puck to the net and could take the puck to the net. I pass it off when I probably should shoot."
The 32-year-old from Shaunavon' Sask. is Canada’s all-time scoring leader. Heading into Friday’s game against Finland in the 4 Nations Cup' Wickenheiser had amassed 148 goals and 181 assists (329 points) for the national team.
Wickenheiser scored five goals in five games at the 2006 Olympics and seven goals in five games in 2002. She topped the scoring races with 17 and 10 points' respectively' and was named most valuable player in both tournaments.
At this year’s Games in Vancouver' 23-year-old teammate Meghan Agosta scored a tournament-leading nine goals and was picked MVP. Wickenheiser finished tied for third overall in points with two goals and nine assists in five games. In her last 11 games against the U.S.' Wickenheiser has one goal and nine assists.
Does that mean the woman often dubbed the best female hockey player in the world is losing her scoring touch?
In her recently published book' Gold Medal Diary — Inside the World’s Greatest Sports Event' Wickenheiser wrote about coming to terms with scoring fewer goals and instead focusing on the passing' shot-blocking' backchecking and penalty killing that makes the difference in a big game.
"She’s more of a playmaker than she used to be'" said Mel Davidson' Canada’s Olympic head coach in 20. "She’s not shooting the puck maybe as much as she used to and you’re not going to score as many goals if you don’t.
"If scoring goals is important or something you want to get back to or do more of' you need to shoot more' pass less. I don’t think she’s necessarily willing to do that."
Where once Wickenheiser was an ambassador for women’s hockey via her forays into the men’s pro game and her on-ice prowess with the Canadian women' she’s become the most prominent off-ice advocate for her sport since she was named captain of Canada’s Olympic team in 2007.
Wickenheiser was the keynote speaker of the women’s hockey session at the recent World Hockey Summit in Toronto' Ont. She’s lent her name to a 54-team' 900-player women’s hockey camp' the Wickenheiser International Women’s Hockey Festival' that starts Friday in Burnaby' B.C.
She’s usually frank and honest in her assessment of anything hockey' but Wickenheiser is uncomfortable verbalizing why when she’s out on the ice' she’s looking for her teammates and not looking for the net.
What becomes clear is Wickenheiser feels an immense responsibility to further the game of women’s hockey and thus the sport’s acceptance. Women’s hockey is often dismissed as a non-competitive' two-horse race between Canada and the United States.
Wickenheiser wants to make the players around her better by creatively feeding them the puck and then looking after other aspects of her game. She wouldn’t feel she’s elevating the game by blasting away at the net' especially in the many games Canada wins by lopsided scores.
"If you’re a great player' you make the players around you better' so that’s what I try to do' probably to the point where I should be a little bit more selfish and take more opportunities to shoot the puck'" Wickenheiser explained.
So a little less Sidney Crosby' and a little more Alex Ovechkin? Balance' in life and in hockey' is hard to strike.
"I want to be the best. I want to make players around me better'" Wickenheiser says. "I want to make things happen every single time. When I step on the ice' if I’m making things happen' making plays' then that’s good.
"Should I shoot more? Absolutely I should' maybe five or seven shots more a game than I do right now. That’s something I’ve got to get back to."
Forwards Meghan Agosta of Ruthven' Ont. and Marie-Philip Poulin of Beauceville' Que. are the Canadian players to watch in the tournament. Agosta set an Olympic tournament record with nine goals and six assists and was named MVP' while Poulin scored both of Canada's goals in the gold medal game.
Whether Christina Kessler (Mississauaga' Ont.) gets into the net for any games is a question mark. Shannon Szabados (Edmonton' Ont.) was spectacular against the U.S. in the Olympic final and Kim St. Pierre (Montreal' Que.) has been the go-to goalie for Canada in several big games this decade.
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