In the aftermath of World Girls Hockey Weekend, one of the greatest accomplishments may have been the feeling of empowerment and inspiration that Hilary Knight and Anne Schleper provided. In an attempt to raise awareness of women’s hockey, two NHL franchises, the Anaheim Ducks and the Tampa Bay Lightning enlisted the aid of the two US hockey heroes.
Of note, Knight and Schleper enjoyed double gold as teammates in 2013. First, the two were part of the Boston Blades squad that captured the Clarkson Cup over the Montreal Stars. This historic win would be followed by contributing to the United States national team that emerged with the gold medal at the 2013 IIHF Women’s Worlds. Playing together at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, they were part of the United States’ fifth consecutive podium finish in women’s ice hockey at the Games.
Born in San Francisco, California (raised in New Hampshire), the chance to practice with an NHL-based team in her home state certainly brings her career full circle. Joining the Ducks for an October 3 practice, the first 25 minutes featured Knight participating in skating and passing drills. Later in the day, she served as a guest coach for a women’s game being held elsewhere at the Ducks’ practice facility.
Invited by the Ducks, Knight has emerged as a remarkable ambassador for the women’s game. While Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau had admitted to never seeing a women’s game live, Knight’s superlative skills certainly made him a believer.
Another coach that would be equally impressed was Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. As the father of twin girls, Cooper praised Schleper’s talents. As the second woman to practice with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Anne Schleper had some big shoes to fill. More than two decades ago, goaltender Manon Rheaume participated in an exhibition game with the Lightning, inspiring an entire generation of girls to play hockey. Schleper extended Rheaume’s legacy by taking part in a practice at Amalie Arena.
Hailing from St. Cloud, Minnesota, Schleper was given number 15 by the Lightning. Unable to hide her smile, the blueliner was initially teamed with Eric Brewer and Mark Barberio at practice. Also working on drills with head coach Cooper, she had the chance to skate with superstar Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan, a member of the US men’s hockey squad at Sochi.
While the chance to practice with NHL teams was a great way to bring awareness to Women’s Girls Hockey Weekend, along with recognizing the impact women are bringing to the ice, there was also some important activity off the ice. Schleper would take part in street hockey clinics along with a multi-panel discussion. Knight was part of the Ducks’ Girls Play Hockey Night at Honda Center on October 4, which included a meet-and-greet.
Both hockey heroes were part of ceremonial puck drops with their respective teams. Schleper was at center ice for a puck drop between the Lightning and the Ottawa Senators. Knight was joined by players from local youth teams such as the Lady Ducks and The Rinks at center ice as the Ducks faced off against the San Jose Sharks.
While the next objective would be to have one of the heroes from the women’s game grace the ice for an NHL exhibition game, the barriers broken by the likes of Szabados, Knight and Schleper has represented a remarkable victory for the game. As Cooper acknowledged after Schleper’s practice, “we are all about the sport here.” It is that type of supporting statement that sets a perfect tone for the promising future to come as sporting equality shall be the catalyst that augments the game’s growth.