During one of the former U.S. Olympian’s first hockey camps in Chicago in the late 1990s, Cammy Granato never forgot the young girl to whom he gave his stick and gloves.
Years later, when Granato found out the girl was Hilary Knight.
“Her stick broke and I said, ‘Here, take mine now,’ because she didn’t have another. I mean, she was too young,” Granato recalled. “I remember her clearly in that moment. I didn’t know it was Hillary until Hillary told me years later that it was her.
Knight was 8 years old, and drawn to the sport in large part because of Granato, who captained the 1998 United States team that defeated Canada in Nagano to win the Winter Olympics’ first women’s hockey gold medal.
The symbolism of passing the stick to the knight is not lost on the 50-year-old Granato.
Just as Granato and her teammates did to inspire a generation of girls to take up hockey, the 32-year-old Knight is doing the same, as the US team prepares to defend its latest Olympic title at the Beijing Games. face has become.
“That’s the one thing I really admire about this group of women. They’re really pushing the game, pushing the envelope for more rights, while they’re playing, for greater equality. ,” said Granato, the first women’s Hockey Hall of Fame inductee who now serves as a scout for the NHL’s Seattle Kraken.
“So Hillary, both on and off the ice, what she means to the development of the sport is exponential,” she said. “She’s an incredible role model. She’s got a great personality. She’s fun. She’s a deadly goalscorer. …She’s a powerhouse.”
Knight is making her US women’s hockey record-matching fourth Olympic appearance, winning one gold and two silvers.
The 5-foot-11 forward has a powerful skating style and tough shot, with Knight ranking fifth in the U.S. Olympic record book with 17 career points (six goals, 11 assists), one behind Granato. At the World Championships, Knight increased his total to 47 goals and 80 points, surpassing Granato’s record (44 goals and 78 points) in August.
A few months later, Knight was still having a hard time grasping the reality of moving on from his idol.
“It still seems too far away,” she said. “It still feels very much like Cammy’s No. 1 to me, personally, you know? Because that’s what it feels like, right? I still feel like a little kid in a lot of ways.”
Because of the joy she gets from hockey, she continues to play. Yet Knight has proved capable of overcoming the many challenges women face in pursuing the sport.
Knight was at the forefront of American players’ threats to boycott the 2017 World Championships on home soil, successfully eliciting his bid for better pay and more equitable treatment from USA Hockey. Two years later, Knight helped form the Professional Women’s Players Hockey Association, progressing to the North American Women’s Pro League with a permanent salary.
On ice, Knight has led the US in points and/or scoring in five World Championship tournaments. At the 2017 Worlds, she scored an overtime goal in a 3–2 win over Canada in the gold medal game.
Knight’s dual influence has earned him immense respect from teammates and opponents.
“She always puts her team in front of her, and fights to the end,” said Finland captain Jenny Hirikowski. “We’ve had great fights on the ice, and she’s a really big star for our game. It’s an honor to play against her for so many years and hopefully she’ll play more.”
US forward Kendall Coyne Schofield sees direct ties to Granato.
“When I was a little girl, I looked up to Cammy Granato. Now, there’s no Cammy, but when you see someone who carries the weight of this game on their shoulders like Cammy … you see Hilary Knight Can put in that category,” she said. “So what does Hilary Knight mean for this game? You cannot describe it in words. You just watch it grow before your eyes.”
Knight politely diverts attention, focusing on the next challenge of becoming the first American team to successfully defend their Olympic title. There is always a new test to keep him coming back.
“Honestly, coming in every day and being humbled by the game because it’s a challenge, isn’t it?” Knight said. “That is what keeps us all hungry to come back and try to be a part of this team. The women in that room are incredible, and it’s kind of addictive. You just want to be a part of it.”
Knight remembers attending Granato’s camp, but a more vivid memory is a meeting he had in 2006, when the national team held an exhibition game against the Choate private school boys’ team in Connecticut. His only disappointment was that the school authorities were not letting him follow suit and play.
However, that summer, Knight received an invitation to join the national team, and made his debut a year later while being awarded Granato’s number 21 jersey.
Knight is now a senior member of the team. It has been difficult to see many of his contemporaries retire, their passion to keep playing has been rekindled by young, talented newcomers. Just don’t tell him that defender Carolyn Harvey was 5 when Knight made her national team debut in 2007.
“Yeah, I don’t do math anymore,” said Knight, laughing.
The American series of the pre-Olympic Games was reminiscent of what was called “The My Why Tour”, Knight shared why.
“This is for the next generation. I went through this experience. I had great role models,” Knight said. “And to be able to spark some kind of inspiration in the next generation, to go out here and do what we did. Why is mine at the end of the day, to do better than that.”
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