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 Wednesday, 8 January, 2003, 18:11 GMT
Wickenheiser out to impress
Hayley Wickenheiser won gold at the 2002 Winter Olympics with Canada
Wickenheiser is blazing a trail in pro ice hockey
Canada's Hayley Wickenheiser is set to become the first woman to take to the open ice in a professional men's league.

On Saturday she will turn out for Finnish second division team Kirkkonummi Lightning.

Wickenheiser, a gold medallist with Canada at the 2002 Winter Olympics, has impressed head coach Matti Hagman in try-outs.

This is just taking myself higher as a hockey player

Hayley Wickenheiser
She follows three other women professionals who have played against men, all of whom were goaltenders.

Hagman said: "Everything has gone surprisingly well.

"Hayley's shooting and skating are above the team's average and as far as her reading of the game [is concerned] she is far above the average of the team."

Confident

"Also the hitting and physical side - there is no problem with that.

"The biggest defence player was hitting her at least 10 times against the boards and there was no problem."

Wickenheiser, 24 - who has also played sotftball for Canada - is 5ft 9in tall and weighs 170lbs.

She will play three games for the Finnish side and then the coaches will decide whether to keep her on for the rest of the season.

Her plans to play in Italy fell through last year when the sport's governing body there said women could not play in a men's league.

Wickenheiser is confident about facing male opposition.

"The next thing I have to show is that I can play against men in the real game, and I'm confident that I can do that," she said.

"This is just taking myself higher as a hockey player."


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