Seven World Championship titles before the Olympic gold
The American ice hockey forward, seven-time world champion (between 2007 and 2017, each time defeating Canada) and two-time Olympic silver medallist (2010 and 2014, both times after losing to Canada in the final), finally won gold at PyeongChang 2018 at the end of a tense final, in which the Americans overcame their Canadian rivals after a 20-year wait.
A childhood on the ice
"I loved ice hockey the moment I started playing, at the age of 5 or 6. I right away wanted to participate in the Olympic Games, even though women's ice hockey was not there yet. I was always wanting more; I would go to bed with my kit on, really excited about training the next day. I slept with pucks under my pillow because I was convinced it would bring me luck. For me, there was nothing else, nothing as dynamic or as quick, nothing that resembles what you feel skating on the rink with the wind in your hair," relates Hilary Knight, who is only 28 years old (she was born on 12 July 1989 in Palo Alto, California) but who has nevertheless been a pillar of the US team since 2007.
Outstanding club player
Hilary began making a name for herself in her attacking position playing in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournaments with the University of Wisconsin. From there, she joined the Boston Blades in the Canadian professional league (WCHA) and then Boston Pride in the American league (NWHL) from 2015. She finished her first season as the best goal scorer in the championship. Boston Pride won the final of the Isobel Cup against the Buffalo Beauts in 2016, but then lost against the same team in the 2017 final.
The Olympic Games above all else
But her primary motivation was her international career and, above all else, the Olympic Games. "I've always wanted to go to the Winter Games," she said. "It has always been my objective, but it was only in high school that I realised I had the talent to do it. I was so immersed in the sport, I loved playing and, as a result, I hadn't taken the time to compare myself to other players. I think something clicked at the time the selections were made for the Olympic team in 2006, when I didn't make the cut. I said to myself then, 'Okay, this is the last time I fail. I am going to make sure that I am chosen for the next Olympic team.'"
Gold at the World Championships, silver at the Winter Games
Hilary played in her first World Championships in 2007 in Winnipeg (Canada), where the USA were beaten 5-1 by Canada in the final. She then won two consecutive titles in 2008 in Harbin (China), where her team triumphed 4-3 over the former champions, and in 2009 in Hämeenlinna (Finland), where she scored the American team's final goal of the match: they won 4-1 in the final, once again against their Canadian rivals. Then came the 2010 Vancouver Games, at which, on 25 February, in the highly charged atmosphere of the “Canada Hockey Place” arena, the two teams battled it out for gold. Marie-Philip Poulin scored two goals for Canada in the space of three minutes in the first period; goalie Shannon Szabados then made a series of saves and the scoreboard didn't change from there: Canada won 2-0.
Hilary became world champion again with the USA in 2011 in Zurich (Switzerland): she was the leading goal scorer in the competition, and in a victory over Canada scored the game-winning goal in overtime for a final score of 3-2. The same scoreline was repeated in 2013 in Ottawa (Canada), where the USA once again triumphed over their Canadian rivals in the final.
Second silver medal "heart-breaking"
Before the 2014 Sochi Games, Hilary related: "I remember the month leading up to the Games. It was like, ‘I’m ready; let’s go do this thing right now.' It’s also about managing your expectations and your emotional load to make sure that you're not too ready before the Games actually begin, because you want to peak at the right moment." The USA and Canada met in the final on 20 February 2014 in the Bolshoy Ice Dome. The Americans started out with a 2-0 lead, with the second goal produced by a pass from Hilary to Alex Carpenter in the third period, but the Canadians came back and equalised with a goal from Marie-Philip Poulin 55 seconds before the final siren. Poulin then scored again in overtime to secure a 3-2 victory.
On the subject of her second Olympic silver medal, Hilary commented: "The only word I can really use to describe it is ‘heart-breaking’. You invest so much, and it’s not only you, it’s your family, and there’s so much emotional baggage that goes into it. And on top of that you’re playing for your country and you’re representing them. I think a lot of us took a few months to come back from that. Then, we were like: ‘Okay, we have one more shot at this and we need to bring back a gold medal. So it’s gold or bust in PyeongChang for Team USA."
Three more world titles
The player who stated that "everything I do on a daily basis – since Sochi – is for PyeongChang, so it’s definitely in the back of my mind at all times" continued to add to her World Championship gold medal collection. The fifth was won in 2015 in Malmö (Sweden), where she was the top goal scorer, and named “Most Valuable Player” and “Best Forward” in the tournament; the sixth in Kamloops (Canada) in 2016 with the same honours; and the seventh in Plymouth (USA) in April 2017. And each of these three World Championship titles was won in the final against long-time rivals Canada! At the same time, Hilary has been leading the fight for gender equality, and for fairer payment of female hockey players compared to their male counterparts.
Long-awaited glory at PyeongChang 2018
During the PyeongChang Games, in the Kwandong Hockey Centre, Hilary and Team USA finished second in group A after the first round, behind the Canadians, who beat them 2-1 on 15 February. The two teams advanced directly to the semi-finals. At this stage, the Americans dismissed Finland 5-0, with Hilary scoring her first goal of the Games in the second period. And on 22 February, in Gangneung, the Americans and Canadians met for the fifth time in an Olympic final, with the Canadians having won four of the previous five – the Americans were victorious in 1998 in Nagano. Hilary opened the scoring, deflecting in a shot from Sydney Morin while the Canadians were outnumbered (power play), 25 seconds from the end of the first period. The Canadians then took a 2-1 lead, before Monique Lamoureux evened out the scoreline with a second goal for the USA. With no goals in overtime, the game was played out in a dramatic penalty shootout. Hilary missed her penalty, but was not the only one. In the end, the American goalie Maddie Rooney blocked two shots in a row, leaving Jocelyne Lamoureux to seal the victory at 3-2. The Americans celebrated in the middle of the rink, throwing their helmets in the air and burying their goaltender. The Canadians were visibly crushed.
"Finally," Hilary could then say. "That’s something any elite athlete sort of obsesses over. That sort of end goal, the perfection, the trophy at the end, the sort of culmination of the work that allows you to get there," she explained. And as soon as the gold medal was round her neck, and she had done the rounds of the most prestigious US television sets (Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show, The Ellen Show, etc.), Hilary, keen to get back on the ice, put on a new jersey: she finished the 2017-2018 season in Quebec, playing in the Canadian league (CWHL) for Les Canadiennes de Montréal, alongside several of her opponents from the last three Olympic finals.