For the upstart National Women's Hockey League (NWHL) to really cement themselves with the public they needed a superstar to join their ranks. On Friday, they got their beacon.
Team USA's Hilary Knight made the decision to leave the Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL) and join the Boston Pride of the NWHL.
Knight, 26, is one of the most recognizable faces in women's hockey. She's a two-time Olympic silver medalist. In four years at Wisconsin, she put up 262 points in 161 games played. As a member of the Boston Blades (CWHL) for three seasons, she scored 62 points in 43 games. This past season she was the first skater to practice with an NHL team, joining the Anaheim Ducks on the ice. Off the ice she's appeared in ESPN the Body Issue and countless opportunities to promote girls and women's hockey world wide.
Puck Daddy spoke with Knight after she signed her contract with the Pride. Enjoy!
Q: For all intents and purposes, you’re now the face of the NWHL. How does that feel?
KNIGHT: "Umm." [Laughs] "It’s so weird. I don’t even think about it that way. Obviously different people identify me as the face of women’s hockey and whatnot, but like my teammates, I’m just there to perform and compete. I think, if anything, we know our roles in the sport and we’re just another stepping stone in the growth of women’s hockey collectively. I take on the title, or the responsibility, with great honor, if that’s what I’m going to be given."
What made you decide to switch leagues?
"If anything it was the vision of having something better than what we had, and to kind of disrupt the pattern we’ve been feeding over the course of the last decade or so. And seeing a leader with a vision and understanding the vision of the former players that came before me. And knowing that now we, me, are in a position to change that was important. I’m a ‘blue sky thinker’ and dream big. I like to pursue big projects, and I think it’s the right move for women’s hockey in general."
Was it difficult to leave the Blades after winning the Clarkson Cup?
"Yeah. I think, if anything, it’s difficult because with any new thing you never know what you’re going to get. Business-wise I’m looking at this like it’s technically a start-up. That’s scary. It’s exciting, though. It’s new and it’s fun. The cool thing about a start-up, this is sort of the entrepreneur side of me, is that you can make it grow as much as you can. Or you can squander the talent as much as you want. But it’s up to you. I think something so powerful that we’re building the foundation for future generations to come. It’s something I wish I had when I graduated college immediately was a professional league that paid me. It’s not knocking the CWHL. It’s just the NWHL is going to force the CWHL to grow and likewise. Hopefully at some point or another they both can combine or we can have friendly matches and border battles."
Do you think two teams from two different women’s hockey leagues can survive in Boston?
"To be honest, I don’t know. It was a huge fear of mine and I know a lot of my teammates, too. It’s like, okay yeah if we all jump ship into the new league and play for the same team, and we’re all training in Boston because we love to train with each other, how’s that going to effect the CWHL? At the end of the day, we’ve had so many conversations about growing the sport, and having visions grander than we have right now. Here we are sitting pretty comfortably in one league, but if we didn’t hop over it would always be, “I wonder if…” We’ll see what happens with the other team. I’m hoping they can co-exist, but at the same time expansion to the midwest is going to be huge as some point, for either league."
Did you see the hashtag #KnightWatch?
"I did!" [Laughs]
What did you think about it?
"Oh my God. I loved it! Are you kidding?! Finding out that people are passionate, we have passionate fans, and then seeing that you have your own hashtag, I was like, “Okay, people, I see you!” I love my fans. I chuckled a bit but at the same time this means I’m doing something right, I guess, if people are following long. Years ago when I’d hop off the airplane and collect my bags at baggage claim, they were like, “Oh, women play hockey?” I was like, “Yeah, I play in a professional league.” And now people are Tweeting about ‘KnightWatch’ and ‘where’s she going?’ I feel like a guy, a professional player, which is what you want."
Did you ever think your career would get to this point where you’d have a something as funny hashtag, or at least, have people follow women’s hockey with you playing a big part in it?
"Nope! To be honest, I thought we would have had a different makeup before I exited college because the issues we were talking about, and I was listening to the older girls talk about, were still issues when I graduated. If you put a timestamp on it, never in my wildest dreams, would I, well I had hoped, never would I have thought they would actually come true and people would be discussing different leagues and why players should play in New York or Boston or who is going where. I’m just waiting for the betting schemes to kind of open up." [Laughs]
That’s when you know you’ve made it: when people are gambling on you.
[Laughs] "It’s great though. It just shows that women’s hockey is on the up and coming. If we put enough marketing and enough viewership behind it, it’s going to be on TV. Then people won’t have an excuse to say ‘oh I didn’t know women played hockey’ and ‘oh I only see them every four years.’ It’s not their fault right now but hopefully we can make it if they’re not a hockey fan."
Finally, talk to me about the Boston Pride. What is it about them that made you want to sign there?
"So, obviously, our team is unreal. I’m going to go on record saying we’ve got a really good chance of bringing home the championship.
"We’ve got such a great team chemistry and team dynamic. On top of that, everyone is working hard off the ice and doing the things they need to do, whether it’s in their job and making sure their ‘normal life’ is taken care of or it’s in the weight room, people are going in lifting. There’s a great comradery. On top of that we’ve got Hayley Moore, just an incredible leader, as a GM, and Bobby J as a coach. I’ve played for Bobby Jay and I’m extremely excited to get on the ice with him, and continue to learn. At the end of the day, if he’s challenging us and we’re learning new things, we’re going to be extremely successful."
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