Hilary Knight Shines in NHL Armor
By Hilary Sheinbaum | June 2, 2015
At 25, Hilary Knight is the youngest member of the U.S. hockey team. However, it’s not the hockey star’s first time breaking records. At the University of Wisconsin (and within the NCAA), she led the nation in goals and earned the title of Championship MVP. In 2012, she was the first draft pick in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. She was also part of the 2014 U.S. Olympic team that won a silver medal in Sochi.
Having practiced with the Anaheim Ducks, Knight is the only woman to practice with the all-male NHL. Knight has overcome female-sports stereotypes, bullying and body image insecurities to ultimately inspire others.
How did your slogan “Strong Is Beautiful” originate, and why did you choose those words?
“Strong Is Beautiful” originated from this thought process that I went through with my own body image. That started because I was asked to gain weight to fulfill my job for the U.S. team in the Olympics. I remember thinking, “This is awesome,” when I was at a rink. But being so insecure when I was away from the rink.
How did that affect you on a daily basis?
I never wanted to wear tops that really exposed my arms because I knew I was very muscular. I wore clothes that weren’t as fitting or revealing just because I was more muscular. I thought, “I can’t wear this, I’m going to look like a monster.” [Then someone] asked me about my arm workout. She was so ecstatic by how healthy I was. That’s what sunk in for me. I need to embrace it. What better way to do it than with the platform that I’ve developed?
What was it like to be a part of Always’ #LikeAGirl campaign?
To be a part of that campaign was amazing, to say the least. It’s totally aligned with my values and what I’m trying to accomplish. Growing up, “You throw like a girl” had a negative connotation to it. After watching the Super Bowl commercial, the campaign really started trending. It truly changed my perception of what it means to do things like a girl.
Besides being pressured to gain weight for the sake of the sport, what other types of pressure have you felt as the first woman to play with an NHL team?
It’s funny, because going into it; I was like, “Yes! I get to play with the guys.” I played in an all-mens league before, and I held my own. I was one of the leading scorers for that league. It wasn’t until the night before and that morning that I was like, “Oh my gosh. This is sort of groundbreaking – not only for me, but for everyone else that’s interested in sports.” There are so many people that would want to see me fall on my face and say girls can’t play at that level. That was in the back of my head: I’m not just going to do this for myself, but for all the women out there.
Being the youngest player for Team USA, did you ever feel out of place? Or did your teammates embrace you?
I am very fortunate because I’ve been in the program now, since I was 17, and I’ve had amazing role models that really took me underneath their wings. They were like, “Hey, this is how we do things.” At the same time, I was open to any feedback and anything that I could do to take it to the next level.
Have you encountered obstacles playing a ‘boys’ game and playing on male-dominated teams?
All the time. It’s interesting, because once you get past the part where there’s a girl trying out for the sport, and the other parents are really upset that a girl made it [on the team] over their son, my teammates were pretty open to the fact that I was there and I could actually play and compete. I was just another player on the team. It’s usually the parents of the opposing team—I’ve been bullied by other people’s parents.
What negative things have been said to you?
Just, “Go after that [explicit] girl,” or “She doesn’t belong here.” All the words you shouldn’t be saying to a 9 or 8 year old. It’s funny because I think I was really good at blocking these things out, but my mom was the one who took the grunt of most of this bullying. She would stand there, and they would know that I’m her daughter. She would hear all this stuff.
What makes you feel confident?
I think I’m most confident when I’m in my element: in a hockey rink, when I’m able to entertain people with everything that I’ve worked on my entire life and be able to showcase that ability. I’m my most confident when I’m in front of a big crowd. I love the thrill of an audience, so it’s pretty cool.
Among all of your accomplishments, which do you feel is your greatest?
I would say my greatest accomplishment is yet to come because there are so many things I want to do, that I’m passionate about. I want to play a game in the NHL. That’s something that’s on my list of things to do.
What has been your best competition memory so far that you will always remember?
When I was 17, my first game against Canada, for World Championships. It was – at the time – record breaking, in front of 15,000 [people]. I remember being like, “Oh my goodness. I made it. This is awesome.” Representing your country on a world stage in front of that many people was such a thrill. That was a really cool moment. We ended up losing, but we came back the next year and won.!
You’re sweating a lot in heavy gear, but in cold temperatures. What beauty products are essential for ice hockey?
Being an indoor sport, we don’t see much sunlight so tinted moisturizer is huge. It’s cold, and you get dry skin a lot. The tint part helps you out with that basecoat tan. I’ve been called Casper before. Waterproof mascara is a big one, because you do sweat a lot. It stays on. Sometimes I have trouble getting it off after a game.
Are there beauty or grooming rituals that you’ve taught your male teammates, or they have taught you?
No, but we have these huge gloves and they don’t always dry out. It tends to be a problem. We call it ‘hockey hands’ to the point where you can smell someone’s hockey hands at the dinner table. It’s kind of gross. So, we actually travel around with shaving cream. In the shower, you’ll just rub your hands with shaving cream. Some people get the same hockey smell on their knees, elbows and feet, and shaving cream gets rid of the smell.
Aside from sports, what are your goals moving forward?
One of my personal and life goals is to create a professional women’s hockey league. Another one is to lead a healthy and active lifestyle in everything I do, and just pursue opportunities that make me happy.