Hilary Knight looks so unassuming on the ice. For perhaps the greatest American hockey player of all time it’s quite a thing to watch. Some players showboat and some players celebrate and then there are those who act as if this is simply the thing they do. This is the thing that Hilary Knight does, more often than anyone, and usually on the game’s biggest stage. Hilary Knight cannot be bothered to spend time on her greatness. It is us – her teammates, opponents, coaches, journalists, fans and the hockey gods of Valhalla – who are moved to fits of euphoria upon witnessing the seemingly effortless awe that is Hilary Knight on the ice. She manifests goals from nothing, teasing them out of the ether with a regularity bordering on witchcraft and, upon delivering yet another moment of je ne sais quoi, the eruptions happen around her, or from me fist pumping on my couch with my free arm, the other tightly clutching a pillow out of nervous frailty. Hilary Knight is lining up for the faceoff. The euphoria happens around her.
Amanda Kessel makes a brilliant play to wait out a sliding Canadian defender, slides the puck over to Knight, who is only a foot or so in front of Ann-Renee Desbiens, widely considered to be the best goaltender in the world. Knight somehow cajoles the puck over Desbiens’ body, bouncing it onto her back before gravity takes it into the net. She points at the net as if showing the world how easy it was and then joins Kessel in an embrace before the standard issue team fist bumps commence. There is no roar, no turn to the crowd, no pounding of glass. This is the thing I do. I have done it. I will do it again.
Later, Knight finds herself on the ice in the third period of a tied gold medal game against their arch rivals. A 5 on 3 power play threatens to define the game. Knight, affixed atop the circles, slaps her stick on the ice to catch Taylor Heise’s attention. Watching live it looked like a demand. I am Hilary Knight. I score goals. Give me the puck so I can score a goal. Heise obliged and, of course, Knight sniped the top corner for her second goal of the night. It was her 100th point in Women’s World Championship history. She is the only player to ever reach that milestone. She celebrated by stashing her stick away at her side like a claymore before being mobbed by her teammates, letting them show the emotion. It was so calm and cool, as if Knight coaxes water from the ice beneath her up through the soles of her skates and into her veins. Then there were fist bumps. Still more fist bumps.
Seconds later, still on the power play, Knight stationed herself in front of the net and deflected a shot from Caroline Harvey past Desbiens. This time she raised her stick aloft as if calling thunder from hockey Valhalla and was again mobbed by teammates. Three totally different goals. One to keep the US in a tight game. One a game winner. One to effectively salt the game away. On the verge of winning yet another gold medal Hilary Knight allowed herself a stick raise. This was point 101 of her Women’s Worlds career. Fifteen more than anyone else. Marie Philip Poulin looks at that total and shakes her head. Young women all across the country are inspired. Hilary Knight skates past her teammates giving fistbumps and then lines up for the ensuing faceoff. Abby Roque cleans up the hats herself because she wants to keep the energy flowing but this energy is everyone else’s. Hilary Knight saves her energy for the game. She has scored a hat trick in the gold medal game against Canada, in what is the greatest rivalry in hockey, and all she wants is for the puck to be dropped so she can continue with her dominance. She will, in a few minutes, tie the record for most medals in the history of the tournament. She cannot be bothered by that either.
Ultimately, records are meant to be broken. Someone will come along and surpass Hilary Knight’s achievements just as she surpassed Hayley Wickenheiser’s before her. Someone will call up Hilary Knight and she will say something reverent for this new competitor and then go about her life which is assuredly full of love and passions and warmth. On the ice, though, she is lining up for another faceoff after scoring yet another goal in a lifetime full of goals scored and cannot be bothered by the tossed hats and yelled adulations. She is Hilary Knight. She does not care that she is probably the best American hockey player of all time. She has scored another goal. The rest of the world can celebrate the awe inspiring enormity of her greatness. The puck is about to drop.