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Hilary Knight Makes Historic Contribution on NWHL’s Opening Day

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One of the most dominating players of her generation, the addition of a world-class talent such as Hilary Knight instantly propels the Boston Pride into the Isobel Cup conversation. Adding a major league presence to the NWHL, Knight’s impact shows that this league matters.

While Knight’s heroics at the University of Wisconsin and with Team USA have made her a household name, she also brings a proud pro hockey legacy to an exciting new era in US women’s hockey history, giving the league even more credibility. Over parts of three seasons with the Boston Blades, Knight accumulated 62 points in only 41 games played, along with 18 playoff points. She also became the first American-born player to be named League MVP, while capturing a pair of Clarkson Cup titles.

Considering that Knight has already attained other championships, including the NCAA Frozen Four and the IIHF Women’s World Championships, an Isobel Cup would only strengthen an already impressive legacy.

The fans in attendance at Buffalo’s HarborCenter not only had the chance to admire her superlative skills, they witnessed history unfold. On a day filled with milestones and great accomplishments, Knight added to the high energy of opening day by scoring the first-ever goal in Pride franchise history. Scored during the opening period against the Buffalo Beauts, it was also the first unassisted goal in NWHL history.

Earlier in the day, Connecticut Whale forward Kelli Stack, who has played with Knight on the Boston Blades and with Team USA, made history as the first player in league history to record a multi-point game. Knight would record her own multi-point effort, but she added a unique twist. While Stack logged one goal and two assists, Knight scored two goals, becoming the first player to log a multi-goal game.

“To step foot on the ice for the first time for the Boston Pride was a dream come true, scoring a goal (from a perfect setup from my teammates) was an added bonus to the whole night!  When I look back on the experience, I know I will remember the rush we got as an entire team playing in front of such an incredible crowd–a feeling that is not quantifiable.”

Knight’s second goal was assisted by Kacey Bellamy. Like Stack, Bellamy has also experienced the opportunity to call Knight a teammate with the Boston Blades and Team USA. By game’s end, Bellamy would accumulate a pair of assists, as her multi-point effort made her the first blueliner in league history to do so.

Of note, the Team USA connection was a recurring theme throughout the game. Along with Bellamy and Knight, other members of the Pride that have skated with the US senior team over the years included Blake Bolden, the first African-American player in NWHL history, Brianna Decker (recognized by The Hockey News as the world’s greatest women’s player in 2015), Jillian Dempsey, Gigi Marvin and Vermont resident Amanda Pelkey.

Familiar faces were also evident on the Beauts roster as well. Players such as Megan Bozek, Meghan Duggan (Team USA’s captain at Sochi 2014) and former Team USA member Kelley Steadman, who scored the Beauts first-ever goal and also recorded the team’s first-ever penalty, were in action during opening day.

Joining them was Brianne McLaughlin, standing between the pipes in a valiant 35-save effort in front of the home crowd. Along with Riveters goaltender Nana Fujimoto, they are the only two goaltenders in league play that were on national team rosters that participated in the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

While there may have been a slight tinge of irony that Knight scored her historic goals against McLaughlin, a teammate from both the Vancouver and Sochi Winter Games, there is no shortage of mutual respect among all the Team USA alums, poised to create a strong culture of acceptance for the budding league.

“First off, whenever we play against one another (Team USA teammates or former teammates), it makes the task much more difficult. I am proud to represent our country with Meghan, Megan and Brianne and have tremendous amount of respect for them as individual players while we compete against one another in the NWHL.

Great competition is always something you strive for as an athlete, you want to be tested and my former badger teammates or USA teammates definitely raise the level of play and the level of compete!”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Photo credit: Meg Linehan
Image obtained from:
http://www.meglinehan.com/nwhl.html

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