HELSINKI, Finland (AP) -Canadian female Olympic star Hayley Wickenheiser quit Finland’s all-male hockey league, saying she wasn’t given a chance to show her skills.

In a statement released by her Salamat team, Wickenheiser said she also missed her family and was returning to Canada to decide where she will continue her career.

“I wasn’t happy. I missed my family a lot,” Wickenheiser said. “I finally came to this conclusion in the end because I didn’t get to show my skills in the kind of role that I wanted.”

Last month, Wickenheiser made her debut in the country’s second-highest league. Last season, the center became the first woman to score a goal in a men’s pro hockey game.

Salamat advanced to the second-highest division, or Mestis, in Finnish hockey in the spring, and Wickenheiser signed a one-year contract last month as the team moved to the upper-level league.

Salamat president Ari Mennander said the team would have liked to have kept Wickenheiser until the end of the season.

“But it has been tough for her – both the separation from her family and the decision to quit – her family was here for two weeks at the start of the season, and since then, she hasn’t seen them … She’s really been holding back tears,” he said.

Wickenheiser left for Canada on Wednesday, a day after the team was told of her decision. Head coach Matti Hagman said he was surprised to learn of Wickenheiser’s decision, despite the fact she played sparingly this season.

Last week, Wickenheiser played with the Canadian national women’s team in a tournament in Sweden, and announced her decision to leave after that, Hagman said.

“It seems she would not have been happy with her current role in the team and the time she could spend on the ice, playing on the fourth lineup,” Hagman said.

Hagman said Wickenheiser played about 10 minutes in 10 of the team’s 16 games this season.

“I don’t want to be mealy-mouthed about it: the level of play in this league was very tough for Hayley,” Hagman said. “It was an enormous step up from the previous season.”

Hagman – a former Boston Bruins forward in 1976-77 – praised Wickenheiser for her professionalism.

“We’ve focused strictly on the game throughout her whole stay … she wanted to be – and was – ‘one of the guys,’ without any preferential treatment,” he said.

Last season, Wickenheiser had two goals and nine assists in 23 games. She has no points this season. She had no points this season.

Salamat, owned in part by Teemu Selanne of the Colorado Avalanche, is currently seventh in the league.

Wickenheiser played in four world championships and two Olympics for the Canadian women’s team, and was a major contributor to Canada’s Olympic gold medal victory in Salt Lake City in 2002.

AP-ES-11-12-03 1253EST



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