This is the ninth in a series of articles honoring the 20 players who have been selected to the WCHA's 20th Anniversary Team. This week's honoree is Hilary Knight, who played at the University of Wisconsin from 2007-08 to 2008-09 and from 2010-11 to 2011-12.
By Bill Brophy
If you mention Hilary Knight's name to her college coach, Mark Johnson, and ask the former Olympic gold medalist and former National Hockey League (NHL) forward the best way to describe his former power forward, he doesn't hesitate.
"Intimidating," said Johnson, the Wisconsin Badgers women's coach. "She could take over a game."
Johnson chuckled and he reflected back to a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) quarterfinal game at the Kohl Center in March of 2009 against Dartmouth, whose roster included Olympian Sarah Parsons.
"It was early in the game and Hilary took a half step over the blue line and went top shelf with her big shot," said Johnson. "We took over the game and won 7-0. That is what she can do with that big shot of hers."
Knight played for Johnson for four years at Wisconsin and won two national championships. She also played for Mark in the Olympics at Vancouver in 2010 when Knight, the youngest player on the team, had a goal and eight assists and helped the United States win a silver medal. She also won silver at Sochi in 2010 and won a gold medal last February in Korea at the Winter Games, scoring the first goal in the gold medal game against Canada.
"With her size and strength and ability to shoot the puck, she was a dominating player for us," said Johnson, the winningest coach in women's college hockey history. "She always had the vision on the ice to play with the guys. Now, she has gotten bigger and physically stronger, and become one of the best players in the country and the world."
Knight, who is 5-foot-11 and 172 pounds, has always stood out on the ice because of her size and her shot. She graduated from Wisconsin with 262 points in her four-year and is the all-time UW leader in goals (143), game-winning goals (30), power play goals (37) and shorthanded goals (8). As a sophomore, Hilary led the country in goals (45) and points (83) and helped the Badgers to their third national championship. Knight was named all-American in 2011 when the Badgers beat Boston University in Erie, Pa. to win their fourth national title. Two months later, her hometown of Sun Valley, Idaho, declared May 19 as Hilary Knight day.
In addition to her success at Wisconsin, Knight has won seven gold medals with the U.S. while participating in the IIHF World Championships. She also won the Clarkson Cup, the Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL) championship, in 2013 and 2015, and was a member of the 2016 Isobel Cup-winning team in the National Women's Hockey League (NWHL).
Knight, 29, a Palo Alto, Calif. native who was raised in suburban Chicago and attended Choate Academy before coming to Wisconsin, is currently a member of Les Canadiennes de Montréal in the CWHL. She also is a valued player on the U.S. National Team, which won the Four Nations Cup last month and is currently training in suburban Detroit. Knight was one of the leaders on the 2017 team which threatened to boycott the world tournament over fair wages and more support from USA Hockey. Knight said the stance was necessary because "it was a cause that was bigger than ourselves."
Less than a year later, Knight and her teammates got media attention for their Olympic gold medal win. For Hilary, it meant an appearance on Saturday Night Live with Leslie Jones and Colin Jost. Knight's website lists nine corporate sponsors, including Nike, Bauer, Red Bull and Chobani Yogurt. She also gained attention as the first women's hockey player who wasn't a goalie to skate with an NHL team when she worked out with the Anaheim Ducks a couple years ago.
Knight also appeared in ESPN's Body Issue and is not afraid to attract attention. Now, she wants to use her voice to be an advocate for women's sports and gender equality.
Dating back to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) days when she dominated games, Knight has always had a presence on the ice (in fact, she still is the WCHA's all-time leader in goals and game-winning goals, while ranking fourth in league history for points). Now she wants to have one away from the rink as well.
"Hilary wants to be impactful," said Johnson. "It is exciting that she is using hockey as her own platform and she has become one of the voices of the women's game. She is doing a great job in creating attention for women's hockey and other things. She is using her platform to so something to help generate growth in the sport and be role model for young female hockey players."
About the WCHA 20th Anniversary Team
As it celebrates 20 Years of Excellence during the 2018-19 season, the Women's League of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) will honor the 20 alumnae named to the WCHA 20th Anniversary Team. The team will be revealed, one-by-one, in alphabetical order, one per week (except for the week of Dec. 24) through the week of March 4, prior to the 2019 WCHA Final Faceoff.
From an initial list of 120 nominations, representing each of the league's all-time eight schools, the WCHA 20th Anniversary Team Committee selected 41 finalists. To be nominated a player (forward, defenseman or goaltender) must have completed her collegiate eligibility at a WCHA institution (nominees did not have to play a full four seasons in the WCHA; however, current student-athletes were not eligible).
The WCHA 20th Anniversary team was determined by 1/3 fan vote, 1/3 WCHA alumnae vote and 1/3 Committee vote (consisting of two WCHA Office staff, one former and two current head coaches and three alumnae).