You get the feeling that the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, for all its luge, speedskating and snowboarding attractions, is going to boil down to one big dramatic ice hockey tournament. It's Canada, after all, and Vancouver is a National Hockey League city.
Opening ceremonies are tonight, Friday, Feb. 12 in the unseasonably mild British Columbia port city. If it's hockey that you like, the Canadians and Americans are on a collision course for the women's ice hockey gold medal game Thursday, Feb. 25.
Few sports in Vancouver embody the amateur Olympic spirit like women's ice hockey. The American team ranges in age from 20 to 31. Eleven players are still in college. One is a mother. They're dedicated to winning a medal, certainly a team to root for in Vancouver.
And there is a Sun Valley connection on the team.
Sun Valley's Hilary Knight, all 5-10, 172 pounds of her, is likely to be a big Alex Ovechkin obstacle standing in the way of Canada's third consecutive Olympic gold medal—and the first American gold since the 1998 Games in Japan.
The Knight family has been calling Sun Valley their principal residence since the start of 2010. Their 20-year-old daughter Hilary Knight is the youngest skater and biggest star on the 21-player U.S. team coached by Mark Johnson, himself a member of the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" U.S. men's hockey team.
Hilary's parents James and Cynthia Knight have been bringing their brood of four children to Sun Valley for 13 years. They've owned a townhouse near River Run for 10 years. Last spring, after leading the University of Wisconsin to the NCAA Division 1 women's hockey championship, Hilary Knight trained in Sun Valley
A peripatetic family that has lived in Palo Alto, the Chicago suburbs and New England since Hilary was born in 1989, the Knights moved to Idaho from their Hanover, N.H. home in December. In January, with the help of Realtor Terry Palmer, they closed on a Sun Valley home.
Wednesday, the Knights headed off to Seattle from Sun Valley with plans to attend tonight's Opening Ceremonies where their oldest child will proudly walk with her American Olympic teammates.
It will be a major moment. "The Olympics are the pinnacle of what we do in our sport. It's the biggest stage we'll ever play on. I can't put into words how exciting it is," Hilary Knight has said about the two-week stretch of competition.
The entire Knight family hopes another major moment will happen Feb. 25 when the American women play for an Olympic medal. Cynthia Knight predicts the U.S. will be in the bronze or gold medal game. "We hope it's the gold," she said Tuesday morning.
Hilary Knight's profile
Born—July 12, 1989 in Palo Alto, Ca. Basically, her time alive covers the entire life of International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Women's World Championship ice hockey.
Currently resides—In Minneapolis, Minn. with teammates.
Size, position—5-10, 172 pounds, power forward, about identical in stature with alpine racer Lindsey Vonn. Right-hand shot. Likes to check because she has played with the boys all along, but body checking isn't allowed in the women's game. Just bumping.
Family—Daughter of James and Cynthia Knight, who never skated but enjoyed skiing with the family. Hilary, who started skiing as a munchkin of 2 at Squaw Valley, is the oldest of four children. Her brothers are James Jr., 19, Remington, 17, and William, 15. Her cousin Chip Knight was a three-time U.S. Olympic alpine ski racer.
< Starting skating—At age 6, after the family moved to Lake Forest, Ill. from the West Coast. She played on boys' teams through Peewees and Bantams (age 14). She attended Lake Forest Country Day and Deer Path Middle School.
Her first big move—As a freshman in high school, Hilary went to boarding school at Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Connecticut. She played four years of hockey there, registering a career-high 73 points including 53 goals in 23 games as a senior in 2006-07. On Sundays, she played for the Connecticut Polar Bears, scoring 158 goals in 128 career games. Besides her Most Valuable Player awards in hockey, she was MVP in field hockey and lacrosse at Choate.
Her family moved to Hanover, N.H. prior to Hilary's junior year at Choate. They lived there until their recent move to Sun Valley.
Pivotal meeting—Knight was the youngest member of the 2006-07 U.S. National team, where she met its coach Mark Johnson, also the coach of the University of Wisconsin. Some thought she would attend an East Coast college to play hockey, but she chose Wisconsin instead. Johnson is currently the coach of the 2010 U.S. Olympic women's team.
College success at Wisconsin—In 2009 as a Wisconsin sophomore wearing #23, she led the entire NCAA with 45 goals including 16 on the power play lifting the Badgers to their third NCAA Division 1 championship 5-0 over Mercyhurst, in Boston. With her single-season school record 45-38 for 83 points, she was an All-American, WCHA Player of the Year and Frozen Four All-Tournament pick. In two Badger seasons she has 65 goals and 56 points for 121 points in 80 games.
Redshirt year on the national team—This is Knight's redshirt year at Wisconsin, meaning she has two more seasons of college eligibility. This is her fourth year on the national team. She led the Americans with 7 goals in last year's world championship victory in Finland. Even though she is the youngest player on the team, Knight was the leading U.S. scorer in this year's pre-Olympic schedule, with 13 goals and 17 assists in her 22 games.
Web site—Hilary's father James, a retired consultant, has put together an attractive site, hilary-knight.com.
Olympic women's hockey background
History—Canada and the U.S. have dominated international women's ice hockey since the IIHF World Women's Championships were first staged in 1990. There have been 12 world tournaments—Canada winning the first eight through 2004, and the U.S. capturing three of the last four world championships (2005 in Sweden, 2008 in China and 2009 in Finland). Canada and the U.S. have met in the gold medal game in each of the 12 world championships. Last year in Finland, the U.S. beat Canada 4-1 in the gold medal game and Finland won 4-1 over Sweden in the bronze medal contest.
Olympic qualifiers—This year's eight-team Olympic field was determined by the top rankings after the 2008 Women's World Ice Hockey Championships April 4-13 in Harbin, China. The U.S. beat Canada 4-3 in the gold medal game. Slovakia later qualified for its first Olympics by beating Slovakia 82-0 (139-0 shooting advantage) in the most lopsided game in women's history, played Sept. 8, 2008 in Latvia.
Olympic history—In the three previous Olympic Games, the U.S. won the first-ever Olympic gold in 1998 at Nagano, Japan, but the Americans fell to Canada 3-2 in overtime in the 2002 gold medal game at Salt Lake City. In 2006 at Turin, Italy, Canada beat Sweden 4-1 in the gold medal game. Team USA lost to Sweden 3-2 in a semi-final shootout in 2006 and then beat Finland 4-0 for the bronze.
Here are previous Olympic placings for the 2010 women's ice hockey qualifiers (in order 1998, 2002, 2006): U.S. 1-2-3; Canada 2-1-1; Sweden 5-3-2; Finland 3-4-4; Russia DNQ-5-6; China 4-7-DNQ; Switzerland DNQ-DNQ-7. Slovakia is competing for the first time. In Group A are Canada, Sweden, Switzerland and Slovakia. In Group B are the U.S., Russia, Finland and China.
Pre-Olympics—In its pre-Olympic schedule since last fall and this winter, the 21-player U.S. squad finished with a 16-7-0 record plus one overtime loss. The Americans did win the 2009 Canada Cup last September, but won only three of its 11 games against Canada. In its final pre-Olympic match-up Feb. 6 at Colorado Springs, the U.S. defeated Finland 8-2. Hilary Knight, the team's leading scorer, did not play against Finland since she was recovering from a lower body injury.
Olympic schedule of games
Saturday, Feb. 13 at 1 p.m. MST, Sweden vs. Switzerland; and 6 p.m. Canada vs. Slovakia.
Sunday, Feb. 14 at 1 p.m. MST, U.S. vs. China (USA Network); and 5:30 p.m., Finland vs. Russia.
Monday, Feb. 15 at 3:30 p.m. MST, Switzerland vs. Canada; and 8 p.m., Sweden vs. Slovakia.
Tuesday, Feb. 16 at 3:30 p.m. MST, U.S. vs. Russia (MSNBC); and 8 p.m., Finland vs. China.
Wednesday, Feb. 17 at 3:30 p.m. MST, Canada vs. Sweden; and 8 p.m., Slovakia vs. Switzerland.
Thursday, Feb. 18 at 3:30 p.m., U.S. vs. Finland (MSNBC); and 8 p.m., China vs. Russia.
Monday, Feb. 22, women's semi-finals in the 18,810-seat Canada Hockey Place, home of the NHL Vancouver Canucks. If qualified, the U.S. will play in the 1 p.m. semi-final. If qualified, Canada will play in the 6 p.m. semi-final.
Thursday, Feb. 25, women's bronze medal game 12 noon, and women's gold medal game 4:30 p.m.