Les Canadiennes Sign American Hockey Star Hilary Knight
Recent Olympic Gold Medalist Excited to Help Montreal Contend for Another Clarkson Cup
It was no typical Thursday night practice for Les Canadiennes at Arena Michel-Normandin.
The team had a new member to their team, clad in a white Canadiennes practice jersey and blue helmet with the number 21 etched on the back. An American who has won just about everything in women’s hockey: two Clarkson Cups, an Isobel Cup, two NCAA championships, seven World Hockey Championships, two Olympic silver medals, and most recently, a gold medal acquired at last month’s Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Her name: Hilary Knight“I’m very excited,” said a beaming Knight. “This is a great group of women, an awesome hockey club and an amazing league. I’m excited to get back on the ice.”
It marks a return to the Canadian Women’s Hockey League for the 28-year-old Californian. Knight played parts of three seasons with the Boston Blades between 2012 and 2015. During her stints with the Blades, Knight was dominant, collecting 62 points in just 41 regular-season games. While she did receive some gentle jabs from her best friend and former Boston Blades and Pride teammate Brittany Ott about leaving Boston for Montreal, Knight says she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m very excited just because of the hockey culture here and the way [Les Canadiennes] go about hockey,” said Knight. “I’ve been up here in a Boston jersey and it’s a little different experience. The passion, you can just feel it in the building.”
She takes particular pride in wearing the red, white and blue, and appreciates the historical significance of the sweater.
“It’s not something that I take lightly,” said Knight as she stared at the Canadiennes logo on the front of her jersey. “It’s a huge responsibility, but it’s also a huge honour. When [Les Canadiennes general manager Meg Hewings] handed me the jersey, I felt like a little kid. I get to play with Les Canadiennes and continue to play professionally.”
Knight is also honoured to be wearing number 21, a number previously worn by fellow American Julie Chu. Chu has since retired from hockey and Les Canadiennes, devoting all of her time and energy to being the head coach of the Concordia Stingers women’s hockey team. Knight made sure to contact Chu before taking the number, a player Knight qualifies as “one of her role models and childhood heroes.”
Joining Montreal did not happen out of the blue. Knight has made multiple visits to Montreal over the years to watch some of her friends play. They teased her about potentially coming to play with Montreal in the CWHL, ultimately deciding that it wasn’t the right timing for her to come. That is, until now.
Knight’s frequent stops in Montreal also allowed her to fall in love with the city, particularly its food scene.
“I went to St. Viateur,” said Knight. “I had lunch at Mandy’s and fell in love a little bit more. I went to Magpie for dinner and it was a done deal. I’m a huge food person.”
It has been a whirlwind few weeks for Knight ever since winning the gold medal with Team USA on Feb. 22. She, along with her Olympic teammates, appeared on the Ellen Degeneres Show and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. The team was also honoured by the Los Angeles Kings, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, and New Jersey Devils during recent home games.
Knight also appeared by herself on NBC’s famous late-night variety show Saturday Night Live. She manned the Weekend Update desk alongside Colin Jost and famed comedian Leslie Jones. She has fond memories of her small cameo on the program.
“Saturday Night Live was phenomenal,” said Knight. “It was definitely out of my comfort zone. Leslie Jones is easy to work with and she made a very memorable moment. I grabbed two slices of pizza before going out there because I was hungry. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have these pre-game jitters.’ It’s exactly how you feel when you’re about to step out on the ice for a big game.”
Knight says she had always envisioned returning to play with a professional team post-Olympics and that ending her year abruptly was not an option.
“I love the sport,” said Knight. “I feel like it’s a responsibility when we can and if our bodies are capable both mentally and physically to continue to bring eyeballs and viewers to professional leagues.”She understands that being a star player, coupled with the confirmed absence of Les Canadiennes’ trio of pre-existing Olympians Marie-Philip Poulin, Melodie Daoust, and Lauriane Rougeau, comes with its fair share of pressure. However, she says she puts internal pressure on herself to be the “best player and competitor” she can be, something that “bodes well for the team.”
She admitted that she hadn’t touched the ice since winning gold and expressed fears that she might be “rusty” in the early goings. By the looks of things on Thursday, it appears there is no rust in her game.
Knight skated with authority and showcased some of her stickhandling skills throughout the 90-minute practice. She also saw some time on special-teams drills, working on the penalty-killing unit. Knight still managed to score while being down a player, taking a feed from Caroline Ouellette and beating Emerance Maschmeyer clean.
Knight remained coy when it came to her role or future plans with the team beyond this season, instead focusing all of her energy and attention on Les Canadiennes’ upcoming playoff run and title defense.
“At this time of the year, everything matters, even more so than it did before,” said Knight. “I understand the situation that everyone’s in. We want to win the next games going forward and hopefully the last game of the season.”
Knight will not be in the lineup on Saturday when the Calgary Inferno come to town for the first of a big two-game set against Les Canadiennes at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard.
She has a prior engagement as a panelist at the South by Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas. Knight will be part of an all-female panel titled Equality & Sports: Leveling the Playing Field on Saturday afternoon. Knight will return to Montreal in time for the team’s final regular-season contest against the Inferno on Sunday afternoon.