Last year EA Sports put out NHL 12 and when they received a letter from a teenage girl in Buffalo, New York who was frustrated that the game wouldn’t allow her to create a female player the company responded by making downloadable package that would allow players to do just that. This year the game makers are going a step further. NHL 13, which comes out September 11, will feature two women in the legends section which also features the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Domink Hasek. Haley Wickenheiser and Angela Ruggiero will be the first two women featured in the game.
Those unfamiliar with women’s hockey may not know the caliber of both Wickenheiser and Ruggiero. Wickenheiser lead Team Canada to six World Championships and three Olympic Gold Medals. She was the MVP of both the 2002 and 2006 Olympic tournaments. She was the first woman to record a point for a men’s professional team in 2003, when she played for a Finnish team.
Angela Ruggiero was just a high schooler when she brought home a Gold Medal from Nagano Olympics in 1998. After high school she went to Harvard where she scared the ever loving crap out of poor goalies like me who had the misfortune of facing her. According to legend, she broke her own goalie’s collar bone with a slap shot during practice. Forget stopping the puck we just didn’t want to die. Like Wickenheiser, she played for a men’s pro team, the Tulsa Oilers, becoming the first non-goalie to do so for an American tem. She was a four time Olympian before she retired in 2011. You may recall seeing her hand out the Gold Medals to the women of the USWNT after they beat Japan in the London Olympics.
Wickenheiser shared some of the difficulties of being a girl playing hockey on an all-boys team growing up. “I remember walking into a rink used to be so much stress because they would know you’re a girl,” she recalled. “So I would just run to the bathroom and hide as quickly as I could.”
I would challenge you to find a woman who played hockey as a kid who doesn’t have a similar story to tell. I was the only girl on my team as a kid and even when I switched to an all-girls team as a teenager we still dealt with playing against boys who would take a run at us any chance they got. One of my proudest moments ever playing sports came when an opposing player said “Hey, their goalie is really good, and he’s a she!”
Wickenheiser proudly points out how far the game has already come. Ponytails hanging out of the back of helmets are common place in any rink, more colleges offer scholarships in women’s hockey than even a few years ago, and girls can point to these legends and others who have inspired them to take up the sport. Wickenheiser hopes that this video game will help spread the game even further and reach more girls who might not otherwise find their way into a pair of skates and a helmet. Maybe it will inspire a few more girls reach for a stick and a puck instead of saying “toe pick.”
Were you the only girl on your hockey team as a kid? What memories of it stick with you?