Wick a Perfect Pick
To be honest, my sports predictions aren't always very accurate.
I'm picking the Mighty Leafs, for instance, to make it to this year's Stanley Cup final where they'll lose to the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks. That might be a tad optimistic as, based on their roller-coaster season, most members of Leaf Nation would be happy just to see their heroes sneak into the post-season party.
I'm pleased to report, however, that at least one of my forecasts has finally come true. Thursday morning during '60 seconds with Toth' on "Moore in the Morning", I pegged Hayley Wickenheiser as the best choice to carry the Canadian flag into the opening ceremonies at next month's Russian Winter Olympics. A few hours later.....Presto! My prediction was realized, as the Canadian women's hockey legend was indeed given the honor of leading our athletes into Sochi.
I must confess I was biased in my "Wick pick". Twenty years ago, I was lucky enough to skate with a then-teenage Wickenheiser during a bunch of shinny games in Calgary. I was a TV broadcaster in Cowtown back then, suiting up for a weekly media pick-up game at a local rink. Hayley was always on the lookout for extra ice time and she joined our group, which sometimes included ex-NHL'ers such as Lanny McDonald.
But forget about Lanny.
Most guys fought tooth and nail to get on Hayley's line. Even at 16 and 17, she was a hockey genius and even if you were a slug like yours truly, you were guaranteed to score a few goals thanks to her sweet passes.
Wickenheiser, of course, would soon become an Olympic legend, winning a ton of medals at five Winter Games and also suiting up as a softball player in the Summer Olympics. But while Hayley has enjoyed lots of success over the years, it hasn't always been sunshine and roses.
A few years ago, I really ripped Wickenheiser over the media airwaves after she made the decision to head off to Europe to play in a men's professional league.
"What about all the female hockey players she's leaving behind?," I raged. "She's making it look as if she's too good for them by leaving to play with a bunch of guys."
The other side of that argument is that Wickenheiser was simply trying to elevate her game by challenging herself to play against men. However, the most important part of the whole debate is that Hayley never held my opinion against me. We had a very nice conversation just a few months ago, in fact, when she passed through Toronto.
On February 7th, Wickenheiser will lead all of our female and male athletes into the Olympic Stadium. It's a perfect chance for Canadian sports fans to say thank-you for Hayley's many years of classy service to our country's sports culture.
And a good chance for an old shinny slug to thank her for all those slick passes.