Two-time U.S. Olympic women’s hockey player Hilary Knight skated with the Ducks at their Friday practice, infusing some enjoyment to a team spending its fourth consecutive day on drills.
“The guys have a game tomorrow. I just wanted to slide in and pretend like I’m one of the guys,” Knight said. “I had a lot of fun.
“I’m one of those women who likes to push boundaries, continue to push the envelope, and I have the frame and stature to blend in. It was a great opportunity.”
Knight said she one day hopes to play in an NHL preseason game.
Distinguished during practice by her long brown hair and diamond earrings, Knight, 25, practiced puck handling with Ducks forward Emerson Etem and joined the team in rushes toward the net, slapping shots at Ducks goalie John Gibson and spending time in conversation with several Ducks.
“Pretty cool, she fit right in,” Ducks defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. “Fun to have her out there. Everyone on this team, in this organization, is responsible for growing the game in Southern California. She is absolutely a torch-bearer for growing the game all over the country. She is hands-down the best women’s player in the world.”
Knight, from Sun Valley, Idaho, is in the Southland to support USA Hockey’s “Girls Try Hockey For Free Day” Oct. 12, which aims to introduce young female athletes to the sport and is part of world girls’ ice hockey weekend.
Knight is believed to be the first non-goalie female to practice with a full NHL team. Canadian forward Hayley Wickenheiser, a six-time Olympian, worked out in Philadelphia Flyers’ prospects camps in 1998 and 1999.
Knight, 25, scored three goals and six points in helping the U.S. claim the silver medal at the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, in February. The former University of Wisconsin standout stepped onto the ice at the Ducks’ practice facility in Anaheim to a chant of “Let’s Go, Hilary,” and consulted with Ducks assistant coach Trent Yawney about the practice plan.
She met with Ducks’ 2014 Olympians Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler, along with Coach Bruce Boudreau, before the session, and cracked to Boudreau, “Don’t make me skate backwards.”
Wearing the No. 21 helmet and a gray Ducks sweater, Knight ultimately flipped a puck through Etem’s legs in their back and forth, flashing a smile that was a near constant throughout her work.
“I was like a sponge out there,” Knight said of extended conversations with the players. “Watching Ryan Kesler – how does he shoot? Getzlaf was teaching me little things about the stick. All of them were friendly … I was like a little kid. I don’t know if you saw the smile out there … .”
In the Ducks’ shootout drill, she blasted a low shot that goalie Frederik Andersen denied with his right leg pad.
“If I could’ve got him, because he was tired after practice, I was trying to go five hole [between the legs] … but these goalies are huge,” Knight said.
The Ducks haven’t played since Sunday’s preseason home loss to the Kings. They return to game action Saturday night in their preseason finale against the San Jose Sharks, with the regular-season opener coming Thursday at the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Knight left the Ducks after about 20 minutes of practice and joined a group of young Lady Ducks on another rink, assisting in their coaching and showing them her silver medal.
“I was pleasantly surprised in her skill,” said Boudreau, who said he’s never seen a women’s hockey game live. “I didn’t realize she was that good. She handled it really well.”
Boudreau said despite some “physicality” challenges, it’s “conceivable” Knight could fulfill her aspiration of one day playing in an NHL exhibition.
“Never say never … if she can play that well in this practice, that can happen,” Boudreau said. “Everybody has heroes, and to see their hero come right in, I’m sure those young ladies were thinking, ‘I can be like her.’ It’d sure be something I’d try to emulate.”