Haley Wickenheiser at an outdoor skating rink. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal/ file
HAMEENLINNA, Finland - While she's thrilled about the future induction of women into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Hayley Wickenheiser wonders if the all-male selection committee knows enough about women's hockey to make the right choices.
The Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto announced earlier this week it will begin inducting a maximum of two women per year starting in 2010 alongside the annual quota of four men.
Women's careers will not be held up against men's, but will be admitted based on their own criteria yet to be established.
The 18-member selection committee is comprised mostly of ex-NHL players, coaches and managers.
Wickenheiser, captain of Canada's women's team, would like someone with knowledge of the history of women's hockey involved in the selection of female candidates.
"If you asked they'd admit they probably don't know anything about women's hockey, just looking at that committee and that's fine," she said. "You can look at statistics and past accomplishments and it depends what the criteria is.
"But for sure you've got to have some people who have been involved with the game for a length of time on there to give some input. Otherwise, they're kind of making blind decisions."
Canada's players learned of the Hall's decision to induct women while they were in Helsinki preparing for the world championships. Canada opens the tournament Saturday versus China in Hameenlinna.
USA Hockey made former captain Cammi Granato the first woman in that country's Hall of Fame last year. The International Ice Hockey Federation's putting Granato and Canadians Geraldine Heaney and Angela James on its honour role in November put pressure on the tradition-bound Hall in Toronto to follow suit, although Wickenheiser hadn't expected it so quickly.
"If you look at how long it took for European players to get into the Hall of Fame, for women to come into the Hall, I think it's pretty fast," she said. "It's good for them because it's showing hockey is a game not only for NHL players, but it's a game for men, women and kids. That's what the Hall should represent. It's not the NHL Hall of Fame."
Granato, who played in the first nine world women's championships and captained the U.S. to gold when women's hockey made its Olympic debut in 1998, was a common choice among the Canadian players asked who should be the first two women inducted.
Wickenheiser said she'd choose her and one of either James and Heaney. Goaltender Kim St. Pierre was firmly on the side of pioneer France St. Louis.
"For sure, France St. Louis did a lot for women's hockey all over Canada, but especially in Quebec," St. Pierre said. "She was a great role model for all of us."
Jayna Hefford pushed for Granato and James. She was 13 when she watched them play in the first world championship in 1990.
"Angela was the first real superstar in women's hockey in my mind," she said. "I can't think of somebody better to be the first person in the Hall of Fame."
Canadian head coach Melody Davidson wouldn't be pinned down on two selections. She offered up additional names such as Shirley Cameron, a founding member of the Edmonton Chimos in 1972, Sue Scherer, who played on Canada's hockey and softball teams, former Olympian Therese Brisson and long-time U.S. forward Karen Bye.
"I just feel like the first two inducted hold a huge torch for the rest that will follow," Davidson said.
Wickenheiser has played men's hockey in both Finland and Sweden and the Hall of Fame has a high profile in those countries' hockey communities.
"People from around the world come to Toronto just to go to the Hall of Fame," she said. "It's a meeting place for hockey for people around the world and it's important to have women in there."
The all-time scoring leader on the Canadian women's team will likely now be headed for the Hall after she retires. Wickenheiser agrees her career can't be compared to Joe Sakic's.
"Different league. Men versus women. Olympics Games versus Stanley Cups. It's almost a different sport in that way," she said. "You really can't compare it and that's fine. I don't think you need to."