Made Olympic History
Wickenheiser balanced her hockey career with studies at the University of Calgary, where she enrolled in its pre-med program. In 2000, she and Team Canada won another World Championship—the fourth for her—and later that year she qualified for a spot on the Canadian women's softball team and traveled to the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. After Sue Holloway, a cross-country skier at the 1976 Winter Games and 1984 medalist in two kayak events, Wickenheiser was the second Canadian woman ever to compete in both Winter and Summer Olympics. She returned to hockey once again at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, and emerged as her team's leading scorer. This time, they avenged the loss four years earlier and beat Team USA for the gold medal. Wickenheiser scored the second goal of the final contest.
A member of the Edmonton Chimos team in the National Women's Hockey League of Canada, Wickenheiser sought a berth on the Merano Eagles, an Italian team, but just before the contract was inked in the fall of 2002, the Italian Ice Hockey Federation declared her ineligible. She signed a letter of intent to play with the Port Huron Beacons, a minors team in the United Hockey League, but soon reports surfaced that she was poised to join another minor league, the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL). Once known for a rough style of play dramatized in the 1977 Paul Newman film Slap Shot, the ECHL was home to teams like the Cincinnati Cyclones and Richmond Renegades, both of whom expressed interest in making her the first woman skater in the minors. Phil Esposito, co-owner of the Cyclones, had used Manon Rheaume as goalie in 1992 NHL preseason game with Tampa Bay Lightning when he served as the latter team's general manager, and told a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times that Wickenheiser's gender was irrelevant to him. "For me, I don't care if they're black, white, pink, blue, giraffe, hippopotamus," Esposito said in an interview with Damian Cristodero. "If they can skate and can play, I want them."