Olympic ice queen Wickenheiser retires from hockey

Montreal (AFP) - Four-time Olympic gold medal winner Hayley Wickenheiser has retired from ice hockey after a 23-year international career that broke down gender barriers for women in the sport.

Wickenheiser overcome her fair share of obstacles while trying to carve her own path into the male-dominated world of hockey.

"Dear Canada. It has been the great honour of my life to play for you. Time to hang em up!! Thank you!" the 38-year-old Wickenheiser wrote Friday on her Twitter account.

Canada's all-time leading female scorer played 23 years on the Canadian women's national team and she spent over a decade as the dominant female player in the world.

In 2003, she took time off from the national team to join HC Salamat of Finland's third division men's league, becoming the first female forward to play full-time in a men's professional league.

Wickenheiser is one of just five Olympians all-time to win gold medals at four straight Winter Games.

"The thing I am most proud of if I look back to the gold medal games in the Olympics, I don't think I played a bad game in those five games. I rose to the occasion a lot," she told Canadian sports broadcaster Sportsnet.

Wickenheiser was 11 years old when she was barred from attending a hockey school in Swift Current, Saskatchewan. But her parents fought the decision and won so Wickenheiser could join the boys on the ice.

She took to tucking her hair up into her helmet so the other teams wouldn't know she was a girl. She said parents would yell at her to get off the ice and wouldn't let their sons get changed in the same dressing room.

- 'Go on and on' -

"I could go on and on," she told Agence France-Presse at the 2014 Sochi Olympics which turned out to be her last.

Just weeks before the Sochi Games, Wickenheiser was replaced as captain of Canada, a position she had held since 2006. She played in Sochi with a broken left foot, eventually undergoing surgery to have a plate and screws put in to fix the problem.

Wickenheiser, in Canada, and Hilary Knight, in the US, have paved the way for women's hockey in North America.

There are now more than 50,000 girls 18 years and under playing hockey in the United States, compared to just 12,000 in 1998.

Wickenheiser is Canada's career leader with 168 goals and 211 assists in 276 games. She also won seven world titles and was the MVP of the Olympic women's hockey tournaments in 2002 and 2006.

Wickenheiser said she won't miss the political wrangling in the sport and having to lug her equipment bag through airport terminals.

"I won?t miss some of the BS that goes along with the game and the politics of it. I won?t miss schlepping bags and equipment through the airports, not having an equipment trainer with club teams," she told Sportsnet.