When Hayley Wickenheiser sees girls dragging hockey bags into arenas, she feels a sense of accomplishment.
The normalcy of girls playing hockey is what she sweated for, fought for, and shed tears for.
When Wickenheiser started playing 33 years ago, there were no girls' teams. She played with boys and wasn't always welcomed by players or their parents.
"The greatest stride's been made in the acceptance of girls playing the game," says Wickenheiser. "Any little girl in this country can walk into a hockey rink and no one is going to think twice or look twice. There's female hockey change rooms in a lot of rinks now."
"I remember when I was a kid, I hid in the bathroom and tucked my hair up so no one would know I was a girl. I just went through hell really, to play. Girls don't have to go through hell anymore to play hockey."
The fact that female hockey has arrived at this stage puts some soothing balm on the difficult decision to end her playing career.
The country's all-time leading scorer announced her retirement Friday after 23 years on the Canadian women's team and almost a dozen Olympic and world championship gold medals.
"Dear Canada. It has been the great honour of my life to play for you. Time to hang em up!! Thank you!" Wickenheiser posted on her Twitter account.
Not only was Wickenheiser, from Shaunavon, Saskatchewan, a star in women's hockey when the game desperately needed one, she changed perceptions of what women are capable of in sport.
The number of registered female players in Canada went from 16,000 in her first year on the national team to almost 87,000 today.
Bob Nicholson, who was Hockey Canada's president and chief executive officer during most of Wickenheiser's career, said she played a big role in giving "girls the dreams that boys had."
Hockey isn't done with Wickenheiser. There will be opportunities for her to work in the game. She said she's had discussions with people in the NHL, but there are no concrete plans yet.
"I have to see how that all fits in with where I'm going in medicine and the rest of my life," Wickenheiser said.
She was an Oilers fan idolizing Mark Messier as a young girl. Wickenheiser, who has lived in Calgary since she was 12, will be honoured in a pre-game ceremony Saturday in Edmonton before the Oilers host the Calgary Flames.
"It's a celebration and of course it's really emotional," she said. "It's sad in some ways because you're leaving a part of your life behind, but it's also exciting in other ways.
"There are other things I've wanted to do for a long time. I have other opportunities within the game and in medicine to pursue. I just didn't want to wait to do that."