By her own lofty standards, forward Hilary Knight didn’t have the impact she hoped for last week at the IIHF Women’s World Championships.
After Team USA defeated rival Canada, 3-2, in the gold-medal game at the world championships Tuesday in Ottawa, however, Knight and the rest of her teammates were celebrating with gold medals.
So, by that standard, she was pleased.
“I’m always happy with how I did as long as we get the victory in the end,” said Knight, a 5-foot-10 San Francisco native who now lists her hometown as Sun Valley, Idaho. “Looking quantitatively, I didn’t have the most monstrous tournament as I have in previous years, but as long as I’m making plays and sacrificing my body and doing the correct things on defense and we’re winning championships, I could really care less if it’s an assist or a goal here. It was definitely a memorable experience.”
While Knight scored just one goal in the tournament, it was a big one. She broke a scoreless deadlock 13:55 into the third period in the semifinals against Finland, a game Team USA went on to win, 3-0. She also added an assist and ranked second on the squad with 23 shots on goal in five games.
In the world championship final, Amanda Kessel scored the game winner. Brianna Decker and Megan Bozek also scored for Team USA.
The fact that the U.S. squad won it all in Ottawa, one year after the Canadians stunned Team USA, 5-4, in overtime in Burlington, Vt., for the 2012 world championship gold medal, made the triumph that much sweeter.
“I think a lot of us had Burlington World Championships last year on our minds, and what better way (to get revenge than) to go up to Canada and beat them on their home soil,” said Knight, whose 2011 tournament was one for the ages, as she topped all scorers with 14 points in five games and scored the overtime winner in the gold-medal game as Team USA won the title over Canada. “It’s a great rivalry and whenever you can come out on top, especially when it’s the world title or Olympic title, that’s something you always dream of.”
Team USA actually lost to Canada in the round-robin portion of this year’s tournament, 3-2, in a shootout April 2, but managed to bounce back when it mattered most.
“It wasn’t like (Canada avenging) a 9-2 win like last year, but I think it was good,” the 23-year-old Knight said of the early loss to their rivals. “I think it really helped us gauge where we were at the time and where we needed to be. We didn’t have the most flashy tournament, in terms of goal-scoring, and we had a good win against Finland the night before, but we all knew the job at hand and really had to show up and play disciplined, team-first hockey.”
The world title, Team USA’s fifth in the last seven years, capped off a memorable season for Knight, who skated in her sixth women’s world championship — not counting her experience as the youngest member of the silver medal-winning Team USA at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games when she was just 20.
Earlier this year, in her first season playing professionally for the Boston Blades of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL), Knight became the first American to win the league’s Most Valuable Player award after amassing 17 goals (co-leading the league) and 32 points (good for third) in 24 games. She also topped the CWHL with five game-winning goals and ranked third in plus/minus with a plus-22.
She then led the playoffs in scoring with five points (one goal, four assists) in four games as she helped the Blades claim the Clarkson Cup championship last month with a 5-2 win over two-time defending champion Montreal.
It was a nice turnaround after the way 2011 ended for her. As her senior college season concluded, her University of Wisconsin squad, which had won the previous two NCAA titles, lost to Minnesota in the championship game. Weeks later was the gut-wrenching loss to Canada in overtime in the 2012 World Championships gold-medal game, a tournament in which the United States beat Canada 9-2 in the round robin and outscored opponents by an incredible 39-2 margin in just four games leading up to the final.
Battling a hip injury, Knight scored five goals and seven points in five games but required surgery afterward.
“My senior year, we lost in the national championship game and then a few weeks later, I ended up making the U.S. team and losing the World Championships, so it was sort of a heavy one-two punch for me,” Knight said. “And then I had hip surgery in the spring, shortly after the World Championships, so I spent the entire summer and year, really, thinking about how I wanted to come back and all the energy I needed to bring the world title back to the United States.
“It was definitely a process and I found out a lot about myself.”
She’s in a much better place now, and so is the United States team as it is ranked No. 1 with less than a year to go until the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
And just as Team USA avenged its loss on home ice at the 2012 tournament to win in 2013, Knight looks ahead to Sochi, where she hopes the United States can erase the bad taste left from losing the 2010 gold medal game, 2-0, to Canada in Vancouver.
“I think being in the previous Olympics and winning the world title, I think we know we need to go back to the drawing board and be better than our next opponent,” said Knight, who notched a goal and eight points in five games in Vancouver. “We can’t stay as good as we are, we have to raise the bar and keep climbing higher. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the job done in Vancouver, but hopefully, the next Olympics will be different.”