It’s 8 a.m. on a cold Monday morning in Boston when Hilary Knight opens the door of her apartment to welcome in a production crew consisting of a makeup artist, two producers, an audio guy, a couple video guys and a photographer for a full day of shooting.
As she sits patiently getting her makeup done, she can’t help but talk about the game she played the previous day.
We’re building something far greater than just playing the sport.Hilary Knight
"I'm a little frustrated with yesterday’s game, to be honest," she said. "The physicality started essentially from the time the puck dropped. When someone kind of irks you the wrong way, you're going to finish your hit."
Knight won two national championships at the University of Wisconsin. She holds countless school records including the all-time goals record. She was a three-time collegiate All-American. She’s the first American-born player to win the Canadian Women's Hockey League's Most Valuable Player Award, and she was that league's first overall draft pick. As a member of Team USA, Knight has won two Olympic silver medals and been a part of four IIHF world champion teams.
For Knight, while hockey is everything, she's also fully aware that she needs to excel off the ice as well. She’s faced with balancing performance as a hockey player with being the marketing face of the first ever paid women’s professional hockey league.
The National Women's Hockey League is in its inaugural season, consisting of four teams: Knight's Boston Pride, the Connecticut Whale, New York Riveters and the Buffalo Beauts. Heading into the playoffs, which start this weekend, Knight leads the NWHL in points, goals and assists.
In the video above, Hilary Knight takes us along for the ride on and off the ice.
For the first time, women are getting paid a salary by a league to play professional hockey. The money isn’t significant just yet, but that’s not as important as to what this monumental step means from the game of women’s hockey.
Knight recognizes what the league's founding members are trying to accomplish.
“It’s challenging, especially with something so new, but it’s exciting at the same time," Knight said. "It’s going to do so many good things if this league takes off. It will deepen women’s hockey collectively. It’ll be interesting to see the level of play in five to 10 years. That’s the exciting part of it."
NWHL salaries aren't big enough for most players to rely on it as their sole source of income, so many hold down full-time jobs as nurses, teachers and coaches. "Hopefully the salaries will grow for players so they can come from all over the country, even all over the world, improving the overall talent of the league," Knight said.
Knight and the NWHL are helping pave the way for young girls with dreams of playing professional hockey in the U.S.
“I was shopping at Ikea and this woman came up to me and said, 'I love what you’re doing; my daughter is a huge fan!' In my head, I’m just playing hockey, but what we’re doing is so much more than just hockey. We’re building something far greater than just playing the sport.”
Knight and her Boston Pride teammates begin their quest for the 2016 Isobel Cup on March 4 against the New York Riveters at 7 p.m. ET. Watch the game live.