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Ice Hockey

Hilary Knight Is on a Mission

Hilary Knight's legacy on and off the ice continues to grow as she prepares for her record fourth Winter Games while working to create a better space in the sport.
By Michael Ehrlich
4 min readPublished on
Since first lacing up her skates at the age of five, Hilary Knight has dreamt of representing the United States on the world’s largest stage, even at a time when women’s hockey wasn’t even considered an Olympic sport yet.
Throughout her childhood Knight spent the majority of her time on the ice, breaking barriers playing on boys’ teams (as opportunities for girls were far and few) and working to level the playing field – or ice – once and for all.
“I’d get harassed by the parents on opposing teams and even some parents on my own team weren’t happy that a girl was taking a spot from their boy,” said Knight. “They didn’t think I was good enough. When I think back to that, I realize all the things that we accomplish as young children. We didn’t even know what we were going through, but we were pioneers of the sport.”
Hilary Knight takes practice shots in Sun Valley, Idaho
Hilary Knight takes practice shots in Sun Valley, Idaho
During an illustrious college career at the University of Wisconsin - with multiple National Championships, Player of the Year and All-American honors – Knight’s childhood dream materialized as she joined Team USA as their youngest member for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, earning a silver medal.
I understand what sports can do for a country and how it can bring people together to fulfill a common goal.
This introduction to the highest level of play on the international stage fueled Knight’s fire to take her game and global impact to new heights. “I understand what sports can do for a country and how it can bring people together to fulfill a common goal,” said Knight. “We also understand what a gold medal does for the sport in the US especially. There is tremendous growth that comes out of winning – what it does specifically for the sport of hockey and for the young girls who are watching.”
Hilary Knight poses for a studio portrait in Sun Valley, Idaho
Hilary Knight poses for a studio portrait in Sun Valley, Idaho
Earning another silver medal in 2014 followed by her current career highlight– a gold medal in 2018 – established Team USA and Knight as the world’s best, but also opened her eyes to the sport’s discrepancy in funding and programming.
Knight became the face of the sport worldwide – earning sponsorship deals with such brands as Nike, Bauer and Visa, and recognition from Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list and ESPN the Magazine’s “Body Issue” – but opportunities to continue her career at the highest level weren’t sustainable.
Outside of the Winter Games, Knight was winning World Championships and tearing through the record books of professional leagues – Canadian Women’s Hockey League and the National Women’s Hockey League – while living off peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. There had to be a way for women to earn a living playing hockey, but the current system wasn’t set up for success.
Hilary Knight poses for a portrait in Sun Valley, Idaho
Hilary Knight poses for a portrait in Sun Valley, Idaho
As the sport’s brightest star, Knight drove this issue not only inspiring change for her contemporaries but setting up future generations for long-term opportunities in the sport.
After leading a group of the world’s best players who announced they would not suit up for any professional league or the World Championships until better pay and working conditions were confirmed, Knight helped establish the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, a player-led and player-driven pro women’s hockey organization in North America that provides training resources, funding and programming for women to train and compete at an elite level.
The “P-Dub” as Knight calls it, showcases the greatest product of women’s professional ice hockey in the world, but it’s really about the next generation for Knight.
Hilary Knight prepares to skate in Sun Valley, Idaho
Hilary Knight prepares to skate in Sun Valley, Idaho
“We’ve championed for years now to try and be a catalyst for our industry to make it a better future for the next generation,” said Knight. “We are just a small piece in this puzzle but it’s our responsibility to push it forward and move the sport forward.”
With a historic on-ice resume continuing to grow – recently breaking the US National Team’s career World Championships scoring record – Knight has earned a place on the Mt. Rushmore of hockey’s greatest players, male or female, alongside Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe and Mario Lemieux. But it’s her impact off the ice that has established her as an all-time legend across any sport in any generation.
Hilary Knight poses for a portrait in Sun Valley, Idaho
Hilary Knight poses for a portrait in Sun Valley, Idaho
I hope to be known for building something substantial, for being a true visionary in the space and for building on the shoulders that came before us.
As Knight takes the global stage again in February for a record-tying fourth Winter Games, her focus is bringing home another gold for the United States. But as she reflects on her career and how she’d like to be remembered, she dreams bigger than goals, points and wins. Knight hopes her legacy is leaving the sport in a better place than how she found it as that five-year-old without a girl’s teams to aspire to and play on.
Knight’s indelible mark on the global sports landscape will be felt for generations to come as female hockey players of all ages will now have equal and sustainable opportunities to train and compete at the highest level.