They all crowded around at the end of the rink, my daughter and her teammates, in their jerseys and gear and skates, their faces pressed up against the glass, waiting to see her come out onto the ice.
A hockey rock star was in their midst that day, and they weren’t going to miss her big entrance.
The Lady Ducks cheered as two-time U.S. Women’s Olympic Ice Hockey silver medalist and professional women’s hockey player, Hilary Knight took the ice and joined a practice session with the Anaheim Ducks. In town to participate in the Ducks inaugural Girls Play Hockey Night and in support of USA Hockey’s “Girls Try Hockey for Free” event on October 12, it is believed to be the first time a female skater (non-goalie) had ever practiced with a NHL team.
Knight is one of the best female ice hockey players in the world, and she showed it in her practice time with the Ducks, skating stride for stride and pass for pass with the big boys. All with a huge smile on her face.
“To be able to practice at the NHL level was something I aspired to do,” said Knight. “It was an unreal experience, and I hope I get the opportunity to play in an exhibition game some time in the future.”
When the girls on the glass got the nod, they quickly strapped on their helmets, grabbed their sticks and hurried over to the other rink inside Anaheim Ice, where Knight joined them for some of their own practice time.
As much as was made about Knight’s skating with the NHL players, I think maybe the bigger story that day was her time on the ice with the Lady Ducks, the seven to eleven year olds, the next generation of female hockey players, and the mark she left on them.
“Being able to see the young faces out on the ice for the first time, it’s a pretty remarkable and honorable experience in itself,” said Knight of her time with the Lady Ducks. “I remember when I was that age, looking up to my role model. I don’t think of myself as such, but it’s great to give back. I was happy to have the opportunity to skate with them. They’re good skaters, they looked like they were having fun.
“The biggest thing I stressed with the younger girls is just to have fun. And if you listen to your coaches, it will get you pretty far.”
The following evening, Knight participated in an exclusive meet-and-greet session at Honda Center prior to the Ducks final preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.
And with many of these same Lady Ducks players sitting at her feet, Knight spoke about how when she starting playing the sport, there was no women’s ice hockey in the Olympic Games. But that didn’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I turned to my grandma when I was five years old and said, ‘I’m going to be in the Olympics’”.
She spoke of her own hockey idol, Hockey Hall of Fame member and U.S. Olympic Champion, Cammi Granato, and how meeting her at a young age shaped her view of her future in the sport.
“I remember when I was your age,” Knight said to the girls, “I used to go to the Cammi Granato [hockey] camps. It was great because I got to see all the Olympians and be on the ice with them. It motivated me to want to be in the Olympic games even more.
“And that’s actually one of the reasons why I wear the number 21 right now because Cammi Granato was the face of women’s hockey when I was growing up and I thought if I can get this number, I could continue to try and fulfill her legacy. She’s a tremendous role model. Now that I’m older, I realize all the things that she had done for young girls like me growing up. I know I have a huge responsibility to grow this game.”
She talked about her mom and what a strong, influential force she was in her support of her daughter’s endeavors, never dismissing the idea that Hilary could one day become an Olympian.
“When I told my grandma that I was going to be in the Olympics, she pulled aside my mom and said, ‘Girls don’t play hockey,’ and my mom looked her right back in the eyes and said, ‘Oh mom, get with the times.’ So you can imagine my mom’s fervor for being a great role model in the sport.”
After taking a few questions from the crowd on hand, Knight signed autographs, posed for photos, and passed around her Olympic silver medal from the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.
As the girls approached the table, their eyes and smiles so big, Knight didn’t rush them through. She engaged with every one, talking with each girl, asking questions such as her favorite color, which position she played and her favorite type of candy.
And I could see in their eyes that this was an experience these Lady Ducks would not soon forget.
Don’t ever underestimate the power moments like these have on young girls and their dreams.
For my own hockey girl, who spent the following days talking about her Olympic-sized experience with anyone who would listen, I thought about the impact meeting someone like Hilary Knight could have on her dreams.
I thought about the enormous role that I play in her life as her mom, her supporter, her champion, and how that, too, will shape her future in this sport that she loves.
And I thought about courage, having the courage to dream big, to play a sport that maybe some still see as “not something girls do,” and how important it is to instill in our daughters the courage to follow their dreams and be who they want to be.
“We have to have a lot of courage to stand on a stage and speak about what we do and pursue this great dream,” said Knight about the role she and her teammates play in growing the sport for girls. “Hopefully when you guys grow up, you’ll have even better opportunities than we’ve had.”
Amen to that, Hilary. Amen to that.
**Photo of Hilary Knight with Lady Ducks player Jackie Fisk courtesy of Chantal Chenier-Fisk.