Wednesday, April 3, 2013

On eve of worlds, Knight reflects on pro hockey

Clarkson Cup champ and league MVP

Express Staff Writer

Holding the “Ignite the Light” sign that encouraged brother Jamie to score two goals for the Sun Valley Suns men’s hockey team on Dec. 29 at Sun Valley Skating Center is 23-year-old Hilary Knight of Sun Valley. She is flanked by brothers William, at left, and Remington. Photo by Willy Cook

Sun Valley’s Hilary Knight finished her first post-collegiate winter as a professional women’s hockey champion when her Boston Blades team won the Clarkson Cup title March 23 at Toronto’s Markham Centennial Centre.

The Blades trounced three-time Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) champion Montreal Stars 5-2 in the championship game of the Clarkson Cup.

Knight, 23, in her first year with the Blades after a record-setting college hockey career at the University of Wisconsin, had been named CWHL Most Valuable Player on March 20—the first American born MVP in the league’s six seasons.

She didn’t score against Montreal in the finale, but her teammates did—four times on the power play while killing off seven penalties. It was the first Clarkson Cup title for the Blades, a third-year CWHL expansion team and the only American-based team in the five-team pro women’s league.

Knight led coach Digit Murphy’s Blades (22-4-1, 82-44 goals-against) with 17 goals and 15 assists for 32 points during the 24-game season, then added a tournament-best 1 goal and 4 assists for 5 points in the four-team Clarkson Cup tourney.

Not only did Knight lead all U.S.-born players in CWHL scoring, she finished second in rookie scoring and third in the individual scoring race for the Angela James Bowl trophy.

With barely a day off after the triumph, Knight traveled to Lake Placid, N.Y. for the tryout camp that selected the U.S. national team for 2013 IIHF Women’s World Championship April 2-9 in Ottawa, Can. And, on March 31, USA Hockey announced the 23-player roster for the U.S. Women’s National team—with Knight a prominent player on the squad.

During the tryout camp, the Idaho Mountain Express caught up with Knight and asked her about her CWHL experience and what’s ahead:

- IME: Big season for you, especially going back 11 or 12 months to your hip surgery. Try to sum up your experience with the Blades in your first pro season and how your expectations met with how it turned out:

- Hilary Knight: Surgery last spring forced me to take time off from the sport and focus on rehabbing and getting healthy again. I did not have any expectations for the year, I knew I had to take it slowly and gradually build into the season. However looking at the year in review, it went better than what I could have imagined. I felt like a kid again playing with and against the best players in the world. I was honored to receive the league's MVP award and a few days later, we hoisted the Clarkson Cup making history as the first U.S. team to win.

This year had its own battles, and making the transition from collegiate life at the University of Wisconsin to the professional athlete lifestyle was a bit of an adjustment at the beginning. I am thankful for the CWHL because it heightens the aspirations of the younger generations and gives people a place to play and compete after college—hopefully one day the league will have evolved enough to pay its players. 

- IME: Montreal was a big hurdle all season, and you hadn't done well against them going into Clarkson Cup. Then you lost that 1-0 overtime game to Montreal to end the preliminary round the day before the final. How did coach motivate you going into the Saturday final, and how did the team execute?

- Hilary Knight: Coach Murphy reminded us that we are all great players and showing up to compete together the next day would be the key to our success. Play together and work hard.

- IME: Special teams were a big factor in the championship game, but it wasn't just you stepping up on the power play. Talk briefly about how the others responded to the challenge.

- Hilary Knight: The best part about the championship game was that our other power play was on fire and stepped up. Some days you drain the back of the net with shots, and on the days where one specific group isn't finding the back of the net as easily, the other power play group steps up and rises to the occasion. That’s what made our team so deadly. If an opposing team was matching lines, we had another line or layer that could get the job done. It’s a team sport and supporting teammates is the nature of our game. 

- IME: You were a major scorer all season for the Blades and of course in college for Wisconsin, but my sense is you also get plenty of satisfaction from others getting the attention and the whole team thing. Plus you had teammates from the great 2011 worlds experience. How did this victory measure up with past successes?

- Hilary Knight: I love to score, but scoring is only one aspect of the game and when you have been playing or watching long enough you start to find and appreciate other parts of the game.

I love to win and I am a competitor—I continue to challenge myself daily. My goal is to be the best player in the world every time I step on the ice, and I feel as though supporting other teammates and doing the little things correctly will help me step closer to that goal.

- IME: How did the team celebrate the Clarkson Cup victory, and what is your schedule coming up with regards to world championships?

- Hilary Knight: We had an 11-hour bus trip back to Boston, and most of us had to do a bit of laundry and repack for pre-worlds training camp in Lake Placid, NY. I hope the girls back in Boston were able to celebrate more and tour around. The U.S. Women's World Championship team is chosen following the pre-world training camp and then it’s off to take on the world in Ottawa.

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