Wickenheiser makes pro debut Saturday

Hayley Wickenheiser will get her chance to play men's professional hockey on Saturday.

Wickenheiser, generally considered the best women's hockey player in the game today, will suit up with Team Salamat, a second-division Finnish team located in the city of Kirkkonummen.

"I usually have some nerves before every big game," said Wickenheiser said at a news conference.

"Obviously playing in an Olympic gold medal final with the pressure to perform is the most pressure I've ever faced, but this is something different, a little bit, because everybody is just going to be watching me for the first part to see how I do."

Salamat said that Wickenheiser would be given three games to prove herself before a decision will be made then on whether she will finish out the season with the team.

When she steps on the ice, she'll become the first female position player to compete in a men's professional league.

A few other women have played professionally, but they've all been goaltenders. Manon Rheaume made the monumental first step with the Tampa Bay Lightning, followed by Erin Whitten, Kelly Dyer and most recently, Shannon Szabados.

The team, nicknamed the Lightning, is owned by San Jose Sharks' star Teemu Selanne and is coached by former NHLer Matti Hagman, the father of Florida Panthers forward Niklas Hagman.

It hasn't exactly been a smooth road for Wickenheiser to get to this point.

Determined to play in Europe which has a larger ice surface and less physical contact she tried to hook up with a professional team in Italy in the fall, but was turned away when the Italian Winter Sports Federation intervened and ruled that women were not eligible to play in the men's league.

In November, she turned down an offer from Phil Esposito to play for his Cincinnati Cyclones of the East Coast Hockey League.

Wickenheiser's fortunes changed when the Finnish Hockey Federation unanimously supported a proposal to allow a woman player in a men's league.

If Wickenheiser stays with the Finnish team, it will mark an unprecedented step for women's hockey.

While many teams are pretty progressive in giving women goaltenders a shot, a lot of clubs don't believe positional players such as Wickenheiser can withstand the physicality of the men's game. Hitting is forbidden and penalized in the women's game.

At just 24, she has already established herself as one of the best players in the sport, leading Canada to a gold medal in the 2002 Winter Olympics as well as four world championship titles.