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Hayley Wickenheiser gets tribute after retirement

Four-time Olympic gold medalist called 'female Gordie Howe' by Wayne Gretzky

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

EDMONTON -- Four-time Olympic gold medalist Hayley Wickenheiser, a trail-blazer in women's hockey who announced her retirement on Friday, was honored by the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames prior to their game at Rogers Place on Saturday.

Wickenheiser, 38, is the all-time leader in points for Canada's national women's team with 379 in 276 games (168 goals).

Tweet from @wick_22: Dear Canada. It has been the great honour of my life to play for you. Time to hang em up!! Thank you! #grateful #graduationday #canada pic.twitter.com/qzEo6sTgP2

NHL all-time scoring leader Wayne Gretzky, a partner and vice-chairman of Oilers Entertainment Group, hosted the pre-game ceremony at center ice.

"You've touched so many lives and opened so many doors for young girls who one day may win a gold medal," Gretzky said.

Gretzky capped off his salute to Wickenheiser by calling her, "the female Gordie Howe."

Wickenheiser, who played center, said she decided it was time to stop playing because of another career calling.

"There were lot of colliding factors, the biggest one probably going to medical school," she said. "I didn't want to wait too much longer to do that. And I've had a few opportunities in the game that have come up.

"I don't know if there was a right time or a perfect time but I've been thinking about it for a while and here I am."

Video: CGY@EDM: Oilers pay tribute to retiring Wickenheiser

Having played 23 years on Canada's national team, the native of Shaunavon, Saskatchewan, said she's most proud of shaping an evolving view of women's hockey, that it's the new normal now for females to play the game.

"I think what I'm most proud of is that every little girl in this country can walk into a hockey rink with a bag and a stick and not have to not feel welcome," Wickenheiser said. "It's normal for girls to play hockey. The fans tonight that were cheering were cheering for women's hockey.

"It's come a long way, especially in a town like Edmonton, where you have a lot of grown men come up to you and say, 'You know what, I wasn't a fan of women playing hockey but I am now and I like watching you guys.' That's what I'm most proud of, that I was part of that whole journey and the game is a lot easier for [women] now."

The Canadian Press reported Friday that there were 16,000 females registered in hockey in Wickenheiser's first year on the national team in 1993-94. There are almost 87,000 today.

Wickenheiser competed in six Olympics, including the 2000 Sydney Olympics when she played softball for Canada.

The MVP of the 2002 and 2006 Olympic women's hockey tournaments, Wickenheiser is one of five athletes in the world to win gold medals at four consecutive Winter Games.

The pre-game video tribute to Wickenheiser on Saturday included congratulations from her hockey idol Mark Messier, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Hockey Canada President and CEO Tom Renney, Flames assistant GM Craig Conroy, Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau and several young female players.

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