Strong is Beautiful
By Ryan O’Leary, March 27, 2015
Just 13 months ago, 23 American women sat in disbelief inside the Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi. Nothing uttered. Nothing heard.
Moments earlier, Canada’s Marie-Philip Poulin stuck an Olympic overtime dagger into the Americans, who moments earlier enjoyed a two-goal lead with just over three minutes to play in the third period.
Gold was in their hands, until it wasn’t. A fourth straight Olympics watching someone else climb the highest step of the podium.
“The scene in the locker room was exactly what you’d expect,” veteran USA forward Hilary Knight remembered. “We just blew a massive opportunity and handed the gold medal to Canada.”
Heading to Malmo for the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship, Team USA seeks answers and a chance to reassert itself as the best hockey team on the planet.
If those answers are to be found, a new cast of characters will discover them. The Americans are sending ten players to the Women’s Worlds who were not on the 2014 Sochi Olympic roster.
They’ll also accept leaderships from a new head coach – former NHL defenceman Ken Klee – who takes over for Katey Stone.
But, fixtures like Julie Chu and Gigi Marvin will not comprise the No. 2 ranked U.S. squad.
On the heels of such a devastating loss and attrition in the group, the next generation of leadership – whether by title or in a de facto sense – is critical to new success.
Strong is Leadership
Enter Knight, a 5’11”, 185-lb power forward whose mental tenacity and leadership matches her daunting stature. The Sun Valley, Idaho, product is headed to her seventh World Championship/Olympics in her seventh year with the U.S. National Team.
Though Knight won’t have the “C” sewn into her red, white and blue sweater at this year’s tournament, she will bring a calm and confidence to a team filled with new faces.
“After a while you get more wise and think about things a little different,” Knight said as she looks forward to Malmo.
“She knows at the end of the day performance counts,” said director of USA women’s hockey, Reagan Carey.
“Hilary is a game changer and her leadership comes through in her ability to execute her skills at the highest level, in the big games.“
Strong is Beautiful
No stranger to the big moment, Knight’s game and ability is well known and well respected. She’s proud of her strong frame – not shying away from how she was made or the advantage it gives her.
“Hilary has elite speed, skill, and she’s a scoring threat,” Carey continued. “Those attributes combined with the power and strength of her 5’11” intimidating frame makes her a uniquely productive player.”
Knight has translated her talent into 132 points in 116 international games with the senior side. Knight is a two-time Olympic silver medalist, four-time World Championship gold medalist, CWHL most valuable player and twice led the NCAA in goal scoring.
Despite the success, she’s the first to admit that she’s struggled with confidence issues throughout the years, but flipped that doubt into self-assurance.
“I’d be lying if I said I just woke up feeling great about my body,” she said.
Knight was featured in last year’s ESPN Body Issue, a special edition of the magazine, which showcases the physiques of athletes from various sports.
The purpose of the issue is to celebrate various athletes’ (both men and women) bodies, their beauty and function. Baseball players, golfers, footballers and tennis stars – they’re all included.
For Knight, the revealing photos were less about sensationalism for Hilary and more about empowerment – not only for herself but all female athletes.
“I’ve been going through a process of acceptance of myself for a long-time and this was part of that journey,” Knight confided.
The reaction to her inclusion in the issue was positive, but it wasn’t until last July when an Instagram photo of her Body Issue photo provided Hilary with a great sense of reassurance and greater sense of purpose.
Her post received more than 5,000 likes and 700 comments – the vast majority of them positive, which thrilled Hilary.
“The reaction was powerful,” Hilary told of the Instagram aftermath. “People asked me to post more and complimented me for shattering the female hockey stereotypes.”
More importantly, Knight was overjoyed with the impact the photos had on others.
“I’m so glad I could empower people through the photo, especially other women.”
“Strong is beautiful,” as Hilary says so succinctly.
Strong Looks To the Future
Hilary is conscious of the fact that her playing career won’t last forever, so she’s capitalizing on her ability to market the game and herself.
First and foremost, Knight is quick to mention that she’d like to capture an Olympic gold medal – the one prize that’s eluded her international career – before it’s all said and done.
She’s outspoken on social media, takes advantage of commercial opportunities, takes speaking engagements and generally thrusts herself and the game forward.
“Hilary has leveraged the opportunities from those who have gone before her to keep the momentum going,” Carey said proudly.
“Hilary Knight loves hockey, loves to compete and appreciates the opportunity to share that love of the game with the next generation and future fans. Her efforts are critical to the growth of our game.“
That’s why Knight is currently a spokeswoman for the ‘Like a Girl’ campaign, which aims to break stereotypes surrounding the female athletic experience.
More specifically, it looks to strengthen the will of young women and promote gender equality in sport.
That’s exactly at the forefront of Knight’s mission for women’s hockey. An ambassador for the sport worldwide, Knight would like to see the game marketed and broadcasted to more and more markets.
“USA Hockey and the IIHF have done a great job growing the sport,” Knight began.“But… it’s still a relatively young sport for women and we have a way to go. That’s why I try to do all I can to market the game and remain visible.”
It’s fair to say that as long as Knight is involved in hockey she will continue that mission with every ounce of her being.
Although Knight has successfully developed a strong (and very likeable) public persona, she does not lose sight of her first responsibility.
“My main objective is to represent my country to the best of my ability and to be a top competitor for United States,” she said proudly. “That’s my primary role and I don’t want to spoil all of the sacrifices that have been made to get us here.”
Though just 25, Knight already has a few inclinations about her post-hockey career.
“For me, I would love to coach, but it’s not really my thing,” Knight revealed. “It would be too hard to stay in the sport and not play.”
Instead, Knight is already branching into the health and nutrition industry and would like to translate that experience into a positive effect on young girls and women in that capacity.
The one thing Knight isn’t sure about? Well, she learned Swedish at the University of Wisconsin, but isn’t sure if she’s ready for Scandinavian interviews.
“I’m going to be a little rusty, but I’ll figure it out,” Knight joked.