By Adam Brady
New names and faces are expected during training camp, but the Ducks welcomed a pretty special newcomer in their practice today at The Rinks – Anaheim ICE.
Two-time U.S. Olympic silver medalist Hilary Knight joined the team for a portion of practice, taking part in a series of drills and jumping into a shootout competition to end the session. The 25-year-old Knight is believed to be the first female skater (non-goalie) to practice with an NHL team. (Hayley Wickenheiser, a five-time Canadian Olympian and four-time gold medalist, was a participant at Philadelphia Flyers rookie camps in 1998 and 1999. Manon Rheaume played goalie for the Tampa Bay Lightning in a preseason game in 1992.)
|“I’m one of those women who just likes to push boundaries and continue to push the envelope,” said the 5-11, 172-pound Knight. “I know I have the frame and stature to blend in with some of the guys. It was the opportunity of a lifetime to come out here and skate with them.” |
“I’m one of those women who just likes to push boundaries and continue to push the envelope,” said the 5-11, 172-pound Knight. “I know I have the frame and stature to blend in with some of the guys. It was the opportunity of a lifetime to come out here and skate with them.”
Knight met the Ducks players in their locker room before hitting the ice, and “she fit right in,” according to Ducks defenseman Ben Lovejoy. “I think everyone was excited to have her, and there was a good energy out there,” Lovejoy said. “She came out and was very impressive. She was snapping pucks on the tape, and it was fun to see a player of her level fit right in with us.”
Added Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf, “It’s a big step forward, and I think she was enjoying herself. It’s something different for us, and there was a little different buzz around the locker room, which is good. She looked good out there. She was moving the puck well.”
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said he was “pleasantly surprised” by Knight’s skill. “She took the puck one time with the backhand and let go of a really hard shot,” he said. “Once she got over the jitters, she was really good. I’d be pretty nervous if I walked in an NHL room and had to practice with them, but I thought she handled it really well.
Knight, a native of Palo Alto, is in Orange County to take part in Girls Play Hockey Night tomorrow evening at Honda Center, when the Ducks face the Sharks in their final game of the preseason. The night will include a sold-out special meet-and-greet opportunity with Knight, and an autograph session will be held for all fans in attendance during the first intermission.
The inaugural Girls Play Hockey Night is intended to draw attention to the multitude of successful girls and women’s hockey programs supported by the Ducks in Southern California. The event is the first in a week-long campaign focusing on women’s hockey, ending with the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend on Sunday, October 12th.
|“Once she got over the jitters, she was really good," Boudreau said. "I’d be pretty nervous if I walked in an NHL room and had to practice with them, but I thought she handled it really well.” |
“The Ducks organization does a great job of growing hockey in general, and they’ve done a great job of growing girls hockey in the state,” Knight said.
After skating with the Ducks, Knight moved over to the Olympic rink at Anaheim Ice, where she served as a guest coach for the Lady Ducks, a team of young girls.
“It’s all about the future and the younger generations, and it’s great when you can see the way you’re changing lives,” Knight said. “I got to skate with the Lady Ducks today and they were ecstatic. It’s sort of a dream come true for me, and it’s an honor to be in this position.”
Said Boudreau, "Everybody has heroes, and I'm sure if I'm a girl playing hockey, it would be somebody like Hilary Knight. I would venture to believe those young ladies were watching her and saying, 'If I work hard enough, I can be like her.'"
Knight, who was also able to share one of her silver medals with the girls, said, “That’s one of the best things about being able to participate in the Olympic Games. You get to wear the jersey, meet people and travel the world, but you also get the share that experience with younger kids. When they have that shiny thing in their hand, they love it even more.”
Said Lovejoy, “She’s a torchbearer for growing the game all over the country. She’s the best women’s player in the world, and it’s fun to see how she did out there today.”
But to hear Knight tell it, the pleasure was all hers.
“I was like a sponge out there. It was like, Okay, what can I learn?” she said. “I was watching Ryan Kesler and seeing how he shoots. Getzlaf was teaching me a few little things about the stick and things like that. All of them were really friendly, and I’m so fortunate to have this opportunity.
“I felt like a little kid again. I don’t know if you saw the smile out there, but I was like, Don’t smile too much! It was a great day.”