Hilary Knight

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Hilary Knight’s trip to historic Olympic ice rekindled love for hockey

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Hilary Knight, in the conversation the last few years for world’s best female hockey player, considered stepping away from the sport during the prime of her career.

Knight was “crushed and heartbroken” after losing a second straight Olympic final to Canada in 2014. This one was in heart-wrenching fashion. The U.S. led 2-0 with four minutes left and ended up losing in overtime.

She spent about six months after Sochi “trying to figure out what the next step would look like.”

“I never was committed to retiring, per se, but there was definitely an I don’t know if I can go another four years kind of feeling,” Knight said last week. “I never stopped training, but I think my heart might not have been there for a few months.”

Understand that Knight was 24 years old at the time and already very decorated.

She was the leading goal-scorer at the 2009 World Championship (age 19, youngest player on the U.S. team), recorded eight points at the 2010 Olympics (youngest on that team, too) and led the 2011 Worlds in goals and assists (and scored the golden goal in overtime of the final against Canada).

In Sochi, Knight was one of two Americans voted to the media all-star team.

Another silver medal stung. Knight needed those months after Sochi to determine if she was still in love with the game she found at age 6 in Chicago.

Come August, Knight trekked to Lake Placid, N.Y., to coach 12- and 13-year-olds. The U.S. under-18 and under-22 teams were training at the same arena, on the very rink where the Miracle on Ice took place.

Knight remembers those potential future Olympians putting on USA jerseys. It reignited her passion.

“I remember what that felt like,” Knight said. “It’s something that I’m not ready to give up yet. That amazing feeling of being that little kid again in that jersey.”

Two months later, Knight practiced with the Anaheim Ducks. If any female skater could make it a men’s pro league, it’s Knight. She is women’s hockey’s consummate power forward, listed at 5 feet, 10 inches, and 172 pounds.

She considered playing in a men’s league in Sweden after Sochi. Knight learned Swedish at the University of Wisconsin and fell in love with the culture.

The timing wasn’t right to leave the U.S., where women’s post-grad teams were in development stages (they still are).

“I couldn’t just leave, even though I really wanted to go and play men’s pro,” Knight said. “It just wasn’t the right move for the sport.”

No U.S. minor-league team reached out to her. (Female goalies are generally better candidates to play in men’s leagues. and Canadian Shannon Szabados did so for two full seasons with the Columbus (Ga.) Cottonmouths.)

Knight continued to thrive for the national team, earning world championship tournament MVP honors in 2015 and 2016. Then she scored another world championship overtime winner against Canada on April 7.

She hopes with the new labor deal with USA Hockey that she can play through 2022. Knight stated before Sochi that she wanted to become the best player in the world.

Has she met that goal?

“Never,” Knight said. “I think when I feel that way it’s time to retire.”

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MORE: Knight’s golden goal lifts U.S. past Canada for world title

Hilary Knight moves up record book; U.S. rolls into final with Canada

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For the 18th time in 18 world women’s hockey championships, the U.S. and Canada will meet in the gold-medal game.

The two rivals kept the streak alive with semifinal wins in Plymouth, Mich., on Thursday, setting up Friday’s showdown (7:30 p.m. ET, NHL Network and NHL.com).

First, Canada blanked Finland 4-0, making up for a shocking group-play loss to the Finns, their first-ever defeat to a nation other than the U.S. at an Olympics or worlds after 81 straight wins.

Later Thursday, the U.S. laid down the biggest rout of the tournament, an 11-0 thrashing of Germany, clearly overmatched in its first worlds semifinal.

Plenty is at stake in Friday’s final.

The U.S. goes for its first world title on home ice and its first streak of four straight world titles. It has never won every world championship in a single Olympic cycle.

Of course, the winner also becomes the PyeongChang Olympic favorite, though Canada lost the world final in 2005, 2009 and 2013 and came back to win Olympic gold each of the following years.

And then there is Hilary Knight.

The MVP of the last two world championships has tallied seven points in four games, including a goal and two assists against Germany. Knight is up to 61 career points at the world championships, tying for second among Americans with four-time Olympian Jenny Potter. Only the legendary Cammi Granato has more (78 points).

In this tournament, Knight has passed former U.S. captains Natalie Darwitz and Krissy Wendell on the career worlds points list.

Knight is also up to 35 career goals at the world championships, which is second on the U.S. list, also behind Granato (44 goals).

At 27 years old, Knight could realistically break Granato’s records in the next Olympic cycle, should she keep playing.

Knight reportedly considered retirement after taking a second straight silver in Sochi, but with the new labor deal, she has more incentive to keep playing than ever.

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MORE: List of NHL stars’ stances on 2018 Olympics

Lindsey Vonn among Olympic medalists in documentary about gender in sports

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Olympic medalists Lindsey VonnHilary Knight and Ann Meyers-Drysdale will feature in TOMBOY, an hourlong, multi-platform documentary project aiming to elevate the conversation about gender in sports.

TOMBOY, which will premiere in March, is told through the voices of many of the world’s most prominent female athletes, broadcasters and sports executives.

It will air across all NBC Sports Regional Networks, NBCSN and select NBC-owned TV stations (check local listings). Clips can be found here. More information can be found here.

In an interview clip, Vonn discusses a challenge unique to her sport — fear.

“In my sport, you can’t be afraid,” said the 2010 Olympic downhill champion, who continues to come back from high-speed crashes and major injuries. “Ski racing is an incredibly dangerous sport. It definitely would not be safe if you were afraid of going 90 miles per hour.”

Knight, a two-time Olympic silver medalist, said that at age 5 one of her grandmothers told her that girls don’t play hockey.

“Since age 5, I’ve been working toward an Olympic dream,” said Knight, the MVP of the last two world championships. “Fifteen years later, I ended up at my first Olympic Games.”

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VIDEO: Vonn crashes out of World Cup super-G