Like the 2010 US Men's Hockey team, the US women were this close to a gold medal at the Vancouver Games. But like their countrymen on the men's team, the women's team fell to the Canadians in the final round, 2-0.
Forward Hilary Knight was on that team, and while she's proud of the silver medal she and her teammates won in 2010 they have gold on their mind heading into Sochi. Knight spoke with Sports Illustrated Kids last summer about playing in a second Olympics, how her role on the team has changed, and what she hopes kids — especially girls — take away from watching her compete.
How is the 2014 Olympics going to be different from your debut?
Going into Vancouver, I was the youngest one on the team and I was just kind of soaking everything in. At the time, I think one of my teammates was 32 years old with two kids. Angela [Ruggiero], another pioneer of our sport, was like 30-something. So they took me under their wing and kind of showed me the right path for what to do. Now, going into this Olympics, for the last three and a half years I’ve been trying to find my identity within the team, and obviously teammates and coaches have helped out tremendously with that aspect of it. But being a more veteran player now, and having been there once before, having been there at the end of the tournament, I think I’m just extremely excited to have another opportunity to take another crack at this thing, and continue to chase my dreams. But my job now isn’t necessarily to be just so much energy – the young kid in the room, chewing bubble gum and playing pranks in the room – but also to make sure the young kids are adjusting well. And that they are comfortable and familiar with their environment. Just being a backbone in any situation that I can. So I think it’s more of a responsibility now to not only play and compete at my highest level, but also make sure other people are doing the same thing.
Did you feel pressure being one of the youngest competitors at such a high level? How did you kind of handle and cope with that?
I was on the national team in high school, so I was used to the environment, and then the tour, I was doing extremely well point-wise, so I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform, and I always do. Being ranked as one of the top forwards on the team for years going into this thing, and finally getting to play on the world stage and being able to play in front of 18 or 19,000 people, I definitely want to showcase my skill and represent our country at its best, and in the whole grand scheme of thing, silver medal isn’t that bad at all. But I think we were really, really hoping and set on gold, so it was really a disappointment at the same time.
It seems like you had so many accomplishments and accolades right away. Did you ever have people tell you that you couldn’t play hockey because you were a girl?
Yeah, definitely. No, I’ve been cut from so many of the boys teams because when I was growing up it was kind of at the beginning when girls hockey was being accessible to different locations in the US, and through younger brothers, I didn’t understand how I was different. My mom raised us exactly the same, and I was always like, "Well, why does Jamie get to make the team? I’m just as good as Jamie." It’s so annoying. We still go out and play open hockey, and he’ll shoot a little bit faster, and it still kind of tweaks me a little bit because I’m, like, "Gosh, I want to shoot faster." but I think that definitely just instilled this competitive drive to be, like, This is who I am. You can tell me that girls can’t play hockey or do whatever, but I’m going to prove you wrong at the end of the day. I’ll run my knees through the mud or whatever needs to happen. We joke around about breaking through the ice ceiling of a male-dominated sport.
You mention your brothers shoot faster, are there major differences between men and women’s hockey? Or is it really just a difference in speed or athleticism?
Well, no, mechanically there’s nothing different, which I think is the frustrating part. Men will shoot a little bit faster, and they will skate a little bit faster, just because their muscles are a little bit bigger. But in terms of difference in our sport, we’re more of a finesse and dynamic game. We can’t necessarily full-out body check, but there’s a lot of body contact. I don’t know if you followed our tour last time, but there were actually a few fights between us and team Canada. I mean, we don’t drop the gloves and punch each other, but it gets pretty close. Over the last few years, our sport has gotten a lot faster, which from a development point is awesome to see. We just kind of need other countries to hop on, and take care of themselves, as well.
What do you hope that kids — especially girls — take away from watching you in the Olympics?
I think if anything… I saw the NHL teams and I was, like, "Oh I want to be in the Olympics." We didn’t have women’s hockey Olympics at that time, but years later seeing the '98 team — seeing Cammi Granato and a bunch of these bigger names — I thought, “Oh my gosh. That looks awesome. I love this sport, I want to do that.” But I think if anything, just seeing how much fun my teammates have, I have, all of us have, sort of chasing this random, weird, quirky dream that we somehow stumbled upon and we’ve sought it out and this is what we’re doing and we’re loving what we do… And it just unlocks so many opportunities and so many doors, you know? So, just seeing me or whoever it is in our sport on TV and be, like, “Oh my gosh. I want to be a professional women’s hockey player,” those are the grounds we’re still trying to tread on and create a path for the younger generations to come up and help promote the sport. And if I can have that affect on another younger girl or even if it’s a younger boy that would just… You can’t really put that into words.
For more coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics and interviews with Olympians, check out Sports Illustrated Kids' Guide to the Games!
Interview conducted by Lauren Shute, Allie Chinander, and James Blankenship
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity and space.
Photos: Harry How/Getty Images, Abelimages/Getty Images