Sports  Talking with the world’s best

The McGill Daily picks up the phone with Team USA forward Hilary Knight

Hilary Knight is fast becoming one of the most talented female hockey players in the world.

At age 21, she has already been a member of Team USA for four years, and is the current team’s leading goal scorer. In Knight’s senior year of high school, she famously scored 53 goals and recorded 72 points in just 23 games. Her four year high school career was similarly impressive: 143 goals and 210 points in 97 games played. During two years at the University of Wisconsin, Knight has recorded 39 multi-point games while taking time off to play for the U.S. under-22 team and senior teams. In the 2008-2009 season, she was named Division 1 first-team all American. She is currently coached at both the college and international level by Mark Johnson, who was himself a member of the famous 1980 “Miracle on Ice” U.S. men’s hockey team.

She talked to The Daily over the phone about the team’s progress in the run-up to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

McGill Daily: How is playing on the Olympic Hockey team unique?
Hillary Knight: It’s a lot different from other sports like skiing where the athletes accept money. But I’m in the NCAA. Right now and I can’t accept money or sponsorships like some of the other players.

MD: What is it like to be coached by a star from the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” Olympics?
HK: It’s really comforting to have him as the women’s coach, ‘cause he’s been there. Team USA likes to cycle coaches so it’s usually different every year, but I’ve had him as a coach at [University of] Wisconsin too…and there’s no difference in his coaching style.

MD: Where is your favourite place to play?
HK: Canada’s definitely the place to go. It’s the biggest rush to play Canada in Canada. We had 16,000 fans in Ottawa. The sport is growing everywhere, but in the States we only get five or six thousand fans…. Playing in Finland was a change of pace. We were more secluded than we previously had been. It’s a different crowd. I really liked Winnipeg when we went there, ‘cause the fans are crazy. There’s something about silencing a crowd like that when we score, and you can actually hear your line mates in the face off because it’s so quiet!
MD: So much of North American hockey culture has to do with physicality and hitting, which obviously play different roles in women’s hockey. Does this change the style of play at all?
HK: Well we can’t check, so it turns our game into more skill and finesse. But, in the world, the U.S. and Canada are two of the most physical teams. I know Sweden is also getting up there, and it’s always a battle when we play Canada. Fortunately I’m one of the bigger players [at 5’11, 172 pounds]. I mean one of my line mates is only 5 feet, so it’s a lot of give and take. One of the great things about hockey is that it requires a different skill set. There’s definitely some pretty goals in women’s hockey.

MD: You are both the youngest member of Team USA and its leading goal scorer. Is it because of your youth that you perform so well?
HK: [laughs] No, I just have great line mates. I’m on a line with Jenny Potter, one of the most underrated players ever. I mean she’s 31, she has two kids, and she’s still dominating at the world level. That says something.

—Compiled by Michael Lee-Murphy