Playing on a U.S. Olympic Women’s Team roster with teammates ranging in age from 16 to 31 years old, Hilary Knight can, perhaps better than anyone, relate to everyone on the team.
Knight, 24, was the youngest player on the 2010 Olympic team that took silver in Vancouver, and now she could be considered almost a veteran on the squad that will travel to Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Winter Games in February.
“Growing up playing against a lot of these [younger] girls was fun and we had so many different moments,” the forward from Sun Valley, Idaho, said. “But when I’m with older kids, it’s ‘Remember when this happened?’ and when I’m with the younger girls it’s [also] ‘Remember this?’
“It’s great. It’s fun.”
The 16-year-old on the team is Jincy Dunne, who would be the youngest female player to skate in the Olympic Winter Games for Team USA if she makes the final 21-player Olympic roster. Three-time Olympian Julie Chu is the 31-year-old veteran on the squad.
In general, though, this year’s 25-player roster — which will be cut down to 21 players in December — is younger than it was four years ago. Whereas Vancouver had no players under 20, this year’s squad has four players born in 1994 or later.
“It’s different for sure,” Knight said of the program’s youth movement. “It’s exciting to see such growth on our side. We’re able to pick from younger athletes like Jincy. Jincy is a really great player. Looking back, when I was 20 I felt really young. I can’t imagine how she feels taking in all this stuff.”
Knight said she was totally star struck when she got to the Olympic Village in 2010.
“Everything is free in the village,” Knight recalled. “I remember one time being so memorized by a Dasani machine. I kept swiping and swiping and swiping like, oh my god, I got 10 bottles of water I had to carry back to room. Jenny Potter, a fourth-time Olympian, was like, ‘What are you doing? Just because it’s free doesn’t mean you need to take 10 of them.’”
With 100 days to go before the team returns to the Olympic Village in the 2014 Winter Games, Knight and the U.S. women’s team are trying to savor the moment.
“It’s crazy, it’s unbelievable, it’s unreal because I feel like this year has just flown so fast and went by so quickly,” Knight said. “It’s such a special journey, and you blink and it’s over. Some of my teammates were just talking about that. It’s crazy.
“Playing in the Olympics is a dream you chase your entire career, even when you are a child, to be on this team. Knowing the Olympics is right around corner it’s like, ‘Oh my god I want to get there.’ At the same time you have to pull yourself back because right now we have a lot to work on, so it’s an interesting combo. The excitement is definitely there.”
The biggest indicator that the team still has a lot to work on was that it lost to archrival Canada twice in early October. The first exhibition in Team USA’s Bring on the Word Tour was a 3-2 loss to the Canadians in Burlington, Vt. A few days later the Americans lost to Canada 6-3 in Montreal.
“I think it hurt; it hurt to play Canada and represent the United States and pretty much just beat ourselves up,” Knight said.
But while she said the U.S. players didn’t execute in both games against Canada, she said they are still on the right track.
“We’re just taking a harder way to get there I guess,” she said. “Those games were sort of a good gauge for ourselves. Right now we are just frustrated. We are not happy with the way we performed.”
Knight said in the long run it might not be a bad thing losing to Canada so early on the Olympic process.
“I think absolutely right if we put in the work now when we get to that gold-medal game down the road, knowing that we are hardened up now, we can continue to grind and do all work. It’s going to come back to one game and fortunately these games last week weren’t that one game so that puts it in perspective. So we live to fight another day.”
But Knight also said she is taking it day-to-day. The self described “rink rat” said hanging out at the Bedford, Mass. rink, where the team is preparing for the Winter Games, is the best way to make the most of the moments leading up until the Olympics.
“I just try to hang around the rink as often as possible,” she said. “We do have a special group of girls. There’s so much you can pick up, whether they are 16-years-old or 31.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.