In the not-too-distant future, visitors to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto will be marvelling at a plaque honouring Hayley Wickenheiser.
The recently-retired four-time Olympic gold medallist who became the face of women’s hockey in Canada during a career that spanned more than two decades is just as assured of her eventual place among the game’s all-time greats as are can’t-miss inductees Jaromir Jagr, Teemu Selanne and Jarome Iginla.
A trailblazer who not only retired as her country’s all-time leading scorer on the international stage, winning seven World Championships along the way, Wickenheiser was the epitome of what young girls – lacing up the skates for the first time – aspired to be. The exponential growth of hockey registration among females in Canada is a testament to Wickenheiser’s influence.
Ten players in hockey history have had their customary three-year waiting period for induction into the Hall waived. The historical list of indisputable honorees includes: Rocket Richard, Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, and the most recent such fast-tracked inductee, Wayne Gretzky.
Wickenheiser undoubtedly has the credentials to be fitted for a Hall of Fame blazer as early as this coming November. But it won’t happen quite so soon. After the Great One’s induction in 1999, the Hall’s Board of Directors introduced a by-law that eliminated the right of the Selection Committee to accelerate the process.
As per an email from the Hockey Hall of Fame:
By-law NO. 14 was enacted to limit the circumstances in which the “3-year waiting period” applicable to player and referee/linesman candidates could be waived by the selection committee for humanitarian circumstances with respect to a candidate suffering from grave or terminal illness and not being expected to survive the waiting period. As such, the “3-year waiting period” could no longer be waived for “player candidates of outstanding pre-eminence and skill.”
If there is ever an appropriate time to repeal the by-law, it’s now.
It would be a symbolic gesture by an organization that presents itself as not wanting to be solely an “NHL Hall of Fame”, yet fails to live up to that standard, year after year, particularly when it comes to electing women to their rightful place in the Hall.
Since 2010 when American Cammi Granato and Canuck Angela James became the first women inducted into hockey’s famous shrine, only two females have been welcomed through the doors: Geraldine Heaney in 2013, and Angela Ruggiero two years later.
Four women elected over a six-year period is a paltry total, considering up to four players are eligible to be enshrined each year. There is no shortage of worthy candidates. Canadian alumna Danielle Goyette and Finland star Riikka Niemenen-Valila are already members of the IIHF Hall of Fame in the Players’ category, as is Ontario Women’s Hockey Association founder Fran Rider, as a Builder.
Nor is it difficult to envision North American Olympic foes Karen Bye and Jennifer Botterill delivering their acceptance speeches on their respective induction days.
The Board of Governors would do well to reconsider its antiquated eighteen-year-old by-law that effectively serves as nothing more than what was a final pat on the back to Gretzky following Number Ninety-Nine’s distinguished, unparalleled career.
Everyone knows that Hayley Wickenheiser is someday going into the Hockey Hall of Fame. There is no reason to wait for three years for the event to happen.
In 2016, Rob wrote “Hockey’s Enforcers: A Dying Breed”, now available at Chapters and Indigo stores everywhere.