U.S. Olympian Hilary Knight practiced with the Anaheim Ducks
It's been a pretty big year for Hilary Knight: she won a silver medal with the U.S. Women's Hockey Team in Sochi, was a runner-up with Boston in the CWHL's Clarkson Cup, and proudly posed in ESPN the Magazine's Body Issue.
On Friday, she added another memory to the 2014 scrapbook, suiting up for practice with the Anaheim Ducks, becoming what is widely believed to the the first woman non-goalie to join an NHL squad's practice.
She's not the first female player to play with a men's pro league team this year, as Noora Raty is playing in Finland's Mestis League, and gold meal-winning Canadian goalie Shannon Szabados finished out the 2013-14 season with the ECHL's Columbus Cottonmouths.
Knight , a former NCAA champ with Wisconsin and a two-time Olympic silver medalist, has been outspoken in her belief that she can fit in to men's game -- at 5-foot-10 and 172 pounds with a power forward's blend of speed and hands, it's not all that hard to imagine.
"I'm one of those women who just like to push boundaries," Knight said. "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."
She certainly made the most of it, making the most of a chance to get on the ice with some of the world's best players.
"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. [Ryan] Getzlaf was teaching me a few little things about the stick and things like that."
Count her teammates for the day among those that enjoyed Knight's presence at The Rinks – Anaheim ICE:
"It’s something different for us, and there was a little different buzz around the locker room, which is good," Getzlaf said. "She looked good out there. She was moving the puck well."
"Once she got over the jitters, she was really good," coach Bruce 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."
Anaheim defenseman Ben Lovejoy was even more effusive in his praise, saying, "She is clearly the best player in the world right now. In her element against her peers, she is clearly dominant. ... She truly did fit in. You really had to try on the ice to find her, because she wasn't out of place at all. She was snapping pucks right on the tape. Precise passing. She put it on the money every time."
For Knight, it was far from another day at the office, and her time with the Ducks isn't over yet, as she'll be taking part in Girls Play Hockey Night during the team's final preseason game against the Sharks. She'll take part in a sold-out meet-and-greet as well as an autograph session.
Even with all of her career achievements -- a CWHL MVP award, an IIHF Women's World Championship Media All-Star Team selection and even her own day in Sun Valley, Idaho, Friday was a day she won't soon forget.
“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.”