Hilary Knight has a lot of big games coming up. Her Boston Pride squad was running away in the NWHL, with the playoffs nearing and the chance at back-to-back titles. Knight will also be a key part of Team USA’s squad at the World Championship, where the Americans are looking to win gold yet again and Knight herself could very well repeat as tournament MVP.
But first, the powerhouse right winger has a date with the great outdoors.
Knight is one of the marquee names playing in the Red Bull Open Ice tournament in Boston on Feb. 22. The 4-on-4 event will see eight teams comprised of two pros and two high schoolers go for glory at City Hall Plaza in Beantown and Knight is stoked.
“To be honest, I’ve been waiting for an event like this,” she said. “Boston is such a great sports town and to bring back the natural elements of the game outside in such a great setting downtown is exciting.”
The all-female rosters will give the chance for some up-and-coming high schoolers to play alongside stars that have helped pave the way for women’s hockey at the truly pro level. Along with Knight, some of the other big names include Alex Carpenter, Meghan Duggan and Brittany Ott. Though the NWHL has gone through some ups and downs in its first two seasons, there are plans set out for the next two years and expansion from four franchises has been talked about. This season will actually be shortened due to the worlds, but it was a move that Knight endorses, since coming back to the playoffs after a break would have been competitively odd for those not heading off to Europe for the tournament.
Most importantly, the athletes are still getting paid (albeit less than before) and the game is light years ahead of where it was even five years ago. Back then, the only “pro” league was the non-salaried CWHL.
“In some respects, I was a little naïve then,” Knight recalled. “I was graduating (from Wisconsin) and wanting to go pro, but it was really semi-pro. I thought it was the best hockey, but no – now is the best hockey.”
Like other stars I have spoken with, Knight would prefer to have all of the best women in the world in one league, where she and her cohorts could play with and against the Marie-Philip Poulins and Natalie Spooners of the world.
“Ask anyone who is super-competitive and they’ll tell you they’re perfectionists,” Knight said. “We’ll accept nothing less than the best and right now we have two leagues. We need to corral everyone together.”
There may be a long ways to go before that happens, but at least there is viable women’s hockey out there right now. The high schoolers that play at the Red Bull 4-on-4 can look at their pro teammates that day and see a tangible future in hockey for themselves – that’s big for the grassroots game and girls hockey is already driving growth in America, according to statistics from USA Hockey.
As for which of her teammates Knight wants to beat the most in Boston, she’s an equal opportunist.
“Everyone,” she said with a laugh. “We’re outrageously competitive. Our group’s a little off-kilter that way.”
Hopefully Knight will at least take it easy on the high schoolers.