Profiles

A bold and balanced buildup

Hilary Knight and her bold, balanced buildup, three years in the works
Of Hilary Knight, her former teammate and successor as the face of USA Hockey, Julie Chu says, “she’s really established herself as a premier hockey player, and she’s able to present herself well and present a strong confident person, which she is, and that’s a great quality that sponsors want to have associated with their brands.” (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

With each U.S. women’s hockey media magnet who preceded Hilary Knight, marketing the team and the sport was a limited-time solo commitment. Starting with her tenure as Team USA’s new “face,” it has become more of a team effort with no calendar confines. Still, she figures to be the most substantial factor with her established following, the magnitude of which dwarfs even her peerless physical presence on the ice.

Hilary Knight has it better than Beowulf, at least in a few key respects. Her tools and teammates are there when she needs them. Those administering her assortment of on- and off-ice assignments appreciate the boundaries of her time and energy.

With that said, she has deferred her share of comfort for her team’s and game’s betterment beyond the rink.

The way hockey espouses all things against individualism, it takes a certain breed of boldness to step up and sell the sport in a singular manner. Sometimes standing alone and letting the name on one’s back radiate is a necessary evil for advancing the name on the front, let alone the game on the ice.

Surely even the late Herb Brooks would understand that difference. But such a reminder does not alter the spotlight’s similarity to, say, a wrathful dragon’s breath. Especially when detractors are lingering and liable to pay their share of attention.

But Knight has been bearing the requisite boldness for virtually the entire interim between the 2014 and 2018 Olympics. She started doing so by baring all in the wee phases of the ostensible dark period for publicity in women’s hockey.

Five months after the Sochi Games, her second Olympic tournament, Knight was the lone puckster of any gender to participate in ESPN the Magazine’s 2014 Body Issue. She has since parlayed that into a women’s athletic image campaign, landing several endorsement deals in the process.

And this summer, on the cusp of the next Olympic buildup, she watched six Wiglafs bolt from the woodwork. Fellow Team USA veterans and PyeongChang 2018 aspirants Kacey Bellamy, Brianna Decker, Meghan Duggan, Jocelyne Lamoureux, Monique Lamoureux and Alex Rigsby all posed for the 2017 Body Issue.

For those keeping score, that was a full-strength lineup of one goaltender (Rigsby), two defenders (Bellamy, Monique Lamoureux) and three forwards (Decker, Duggan, Jocelyne Lamoureux). They allowed Knight to take at least one shift off in the rigorous marketing game.

The months-long buildup to the 2018 Games this fall and winter could mark the first time more than one U.S. women’s hockey player appears in ads for official Olympic sponsors. Come what may, Knight figures to log the most camera time by way of feature segments and commercials alike.

“It is not a surprise that she has hit the pinnacle of the sport and now is the face of women’s USA Hockey. She is an extremely talented player, and has surely embraced the spotlight.” – Former high-school teammate Nicole Stock on Hilary Knight

NBC Sports, which will carry its fifth consecutive Winter Games, indicated as much when it dubbed her “the face” of the team at the one-year mark of its PyeongChang countdown. With half of that year now melted off, those who witnessed her evolution firsthand are grabbing a sideline seat to the biggest on- and off-ice games (or Games) of her life.

“Hilary was always an exceptional athlete, and brought a competitive edge that made our team better,” said Nicole Stock, a former prep-school teammate and more recent NWHL opponent, to Pucks and Recreation via e-mail. “It is not a surprise that she has hit the pinnacle of the sport and now is the face of women’s USA Hockey. She is an extremely talented player, and has surely embraced the spotlight.”

In so doing, she has seized every advancing asset at her disposal to raise the bar set by the three former faces of the national program. Based on the results, hardcore advocates could all but declare her initiative a gift from the hockey gods. Read deep enough into Knight’s list of traits, and you yourself might stop short of contemplating the literal existence of a Puck Parthenon.

Like Cammi Granato, she wears Team USA’s No. 21 jersey and spent most of her upbringing in Illinois. Like Angela Ruggiero, she was born in California before migrating to the Midwest and has done some not-so-sports-centric media appearances. Like Julie Chu, she shed her shell (and then some) and signaled her rise to the position of the program’s sales-skater by participating in the Body Issue.

As the 2017-18 season commences, and the snowballing PyeongChang hype along with it, she will need to be camera-ready for a broader-than-ever audience. Her predecessor and two-time teammate from prior Olympics has the freshest understanding of the hustle and hassle ahead.

“It was really about balancing it,” Chu said in a phone chat with Pucks and Rec. “Making sure that you’re setting the precedent of, ‘Okay, this is what I can do so I can make sure I’m getting my training in,’ or making sure that it’s built within the system of whatever might need to be covered with a sponsor at that particular time.”

In reference to Knight, she continued, “I think that’s she going to have a lot of good guidance for her. She’s going to find the balance. And in reality, when you play a team sport, the structure is always built based on the team, so the sponsors know that there is a limited amount of access during the season because you’re not going to miss a practice for a sponsor event. The team comes first at the end of the day.”

The ‘extra layer’
When she came to the team at the beginning, Knight narrowly missed overlapping with the first media magnet in her sport and national program. By that token, she entered in the aftermath of an upheaval for the team between the boards, and for the game’s marketability beyond them.

Granato was shockingly cut after the Americans’ 2005 summer camp in preparation for the sport’s third-ever Olympic tournament. Whether the lost veteran presence was to blame or not, the U.S. went on to its worst result to date, settling for bronze after Sweden’s semifinal upset.

Nine months after the Torino letdown, as a senior at Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Conn., Knight was one specimen of the new blood the program desperately needed. By then a commitment to the University of Wisconsin, she took time away from her prep-school campus to participate in the 2006 Four Nations Cup.

That was her first experience allying with the two women who would succeed Granato as Team USA’s go-to sales-skater. Ruggiero had her fourth and final Olympic tournament ahead of her in 2010. Chu had two more to come.

The youngest member of that Four Nations team by nine days (trailed immediately by the Lamoureux twins), the then-17-year-old Knight had only her skill set to speak of. But as Chu recalls, it was second nature to summon that and merely sell her candidacy to the coaching staff.

“Any time you’re that young joining the national team, you’re a bit scared and a little quieter,” said Chu. “That’s just kind of how she came about it, but that might be more in the off-ice setting, where you’re just figuring out where do you fit in, how does it all work and just kind of absorbing everything.

“But the great thing is that Hilary’s always been a player that, once she steps on the ice, she has a great presence. She has that ability to allow all of those first-experience moments to kind of go off to the side and then just focus on enjoying being on the ice and utilizing all the skills that allowed her to make that national team in the first place.”

Hilary Knight and her bold, balanced buildup, three years in the works

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Knight’s IIHF debut came and went, followed by her transition from Choate to Wisconsin. Subsequent appearances in the 2008 and 2009 IIHF Women’s World Championship presaged her passport to Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics.

The year after that, Chu became the first player to represent the program and sport in the Body Issue, and Ruggiero retired from international hockey. In hindsight, that succession of events signaled the next transition of faces.

Following the 2014 Sochi tournament, before and during which her voice and likeness hawked everything from BP to Bounty, Chu left IIHF competition herself. She has since moved north to Montreal, where she coaches at Concordia University. But force of habit still adheres the pronoun “we” to her diction when she discusses Team USA.

Recounting the latter phases of a near-decade as Knight’s teammate, Chu notes that her successor is selective in breaking out her voice. Circumstances and people will prompt her, and she will oblige. With that said, her anonymous admirers and peddling pursuers simply request greater volumes than her peers.

“It comes in different capacities,” Chu said. “I think, naturally, Hilary is more of a quieter person. She does go out, and she is proactive on social media, and when she’s at the rink and she’s engaging with young athletes, she’s incredible. She does a great job of that. But I also think that she does a great job of having her space and her time.

“Even within a team environment, she’s not necessarily the most vocal leader within our group on a consistent basis. And that’s okay because we have amazing leaders like Meghan Duggan and other veterans — the Lamoureux twins and Kacey Bellamy — who are those vocal leaders on a consistent basis. And Hilary brings in that extra layer of that veteran presence and guidance that our group needs as well.

“There’s always that balance within a person.”

Show Choate-ing
Stock’s day job, not unlike Knight’s marketing moonlight, packs a perfect fusion of privilege, responsibility and external aid. The goaltender for the NWHL’s Connecticut Whale also serves as Choate Rosemary Hall’s girls’ hockey coach and sports information director.

Herself a class of 2005 Choate graduate, she has watched her predecessors and contemporaries offer her alma mater a denser international representation than any other prep program in the game. Five graduates have gone on to don a U.S. Olympic uniform: Ruggiero, Chu, Kim Insalaco, Knight and Josephine Pucci.

Yet at any given time, dating back to Granato’s retirement, three of those five (i.e. 60 percent) have been the decisive face of the national team. In this calendar decade, no one without a Choate diploma has equaled Ruggiero, Chu or Knight as a media maestro bearing the USA Hockey crest.

Local journalist David E. Wells filled a prophetic five-hole on the eve of the 2010 Olympic gold-medal game, the last time Ruggiero, Chu and Knight would all play together on that stage. “While Ruggiero…has been the face of U.S. women’s hockey during its development over the past 12 years,” Wells wrote in the Connecticut Post, “Knight may be the face of the future.”

While that foretold future was not immediate, every step has made for proud chatter among Choaties.

For Chu, taking the national program’s proverbial torch from one Choate product, then setting it down for another to pick up, is “an added bonus.” For Stock, the pattern makes for publicity platinum, even if she and her communications colleagues handle it in a low-key tone.

Stock’s professional netminding caliber has never yielded the glamorous company of IIHF competition. But she has her own task of selling a storied program’s tradition, which only takes on another coat when a fellow alumna’s image and voice permeate the national media.

Not that she intends to stray too far from her crease. The half-blessed, half-cursed hockey humility bug still has its bite on her. When it comes to selling the game to the nation, Choate is a team within a team.

“It is obviously a very nice honor to have alumnae that are succeeding and attaining the highest levels of women’s ice hockey,” Stock allowed. “We are proud as a community to have these women represent Choate, and more importantly the USA, both past and present.

“I enjoy talking about our alumnae to the girls and about the legacy they have helped pave, not only for our program, but girls’ hockey overall.”

On an ordinary day, Remsen Arena on the Choate campus does a lot less talking about the past. The full-time nods to the five U.S. Olympians, plus Team Switzerland veteran Phoebe Staenz, are confined to simple banners.

Hilary Knight and her bold, balanced buildup, three years in the works

Angela Ruggiero, Julie Chu and Hilary Knight have combined to represent Choate Rosemary Hall and USA Hockey for two decades and counting. (Photo by Tom Dahlin/Getty Images)

But when the time comes to leave the comfort zone and boast a tad more, Stock will not shy away. Case in point, in 2014-15, the year before the NWHL formed as the first genuine professional women’s league, she was a teammate of Knight’s with the CWHL’s Boston Blades. Chu was in her final season with the rival Montreal Stars.

The unpaid Blades have been a chiefly nomadic franchise since their 2010 inception, hosting regular-season games in multiple New England states. In her fifth year with the Choate athletic department, Stock secured Remsen’s hosting rights to the Boston-Montreal card for Jan. 24, 2015.

On that night, the retired Ruggiero was on hand to drop a ceremonial puck between Chu and Knight. The succession of sales-skaters posed with Stock, and later stuck around for a high-demand postgame autograph convention.

At the time, half of that picture had taken a turn in front of the deifying cameras of the NBC networks and Olympic team sponsors. Stock and Knight (now rivals with the Whale and Boston Pride) represented the other half at the home end of the photo-op faceoff. Customarily pulling the puck to their side was another incidental symbol of the upcoming torch relay.

Now that Knight is raring to accelerate the transition, Stock is poised to enter her seventh year in the athletic department and build on her prior experience from when Chu was Team USA’s face circa 2013-14. She is ready to act like this school has scored before.

“I will be working with our communications team to put together the appropriate amount of coverage that the school deems necessary as the Olympics approach,” she said. “We have obviously had our alumnae compete in previous Olympics and the communications team is well-versed in the coverage of those athletes.”

But Stock is best-versed in the athlete of the hour. Growing up in the same Illinois county, and just seven miles southwest of Lake Forest in Buffalo Grove, she often intersected with Knight in summer hockey. Two years her senior, she teamed with her full-time when they overlapped at Choate in the 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons.

In those days, both girls were undoubtedly fantasizing about following another Chicagoland product, Granato, to the Olympiad. Speaking to NBC Sports’ Brittany Burke in 2015, Knight added, “I remember looking up to Julie Chu and walking around (Choate’s) campus and seeing her picture or Angela Ruggiero’s picture and being like, ‘Wow I want to be like those girls one day.’”

Now tasked with fostering similar dreams in the same space, Stock takes pleasure in her former teammate’s readily-seen representation. She has an epitome of results to show the new recipients of the place’s principles.

“Choate teaches in every aspect of the student-athlete’s life,” she said, “whether it be in the classroom, playing field or living spaces. Being able to learn in every aspect of your life during the formative years, I think, forces students to develop awareness and leadership skills.”

No arms, no wow
Roughly six years post-Choate, a new type of awareness made Knight appreciate the way her grunt work for athletic glory meshed with feminine fashion. And it would serve to yield her a leadership role even without wearing a letter over her heart.

As her role on the national team’s strike force elevated in the Sochi season, she followed the coaching staff’s directions to sculpt a prototypical power-forward build, with emphasis on the arms. And while Chu was the team’s advertising nucleus, Knight and others had their own promotional itinerary.

One of those stops in New York City all but secured her future position as the program’s publicity pilot. She later spoke of the revelation at an ESPNW summit hosted by 1999 World Cup-winning midfielder Julie Foudy. She recounted it again in an October 2015 Q-and-A with Nicole Blades of the same outlet.

As the story goes, Knight had gone into a function intending to hide the arms she had sculpted for that medal-caliber scoring prowess. Where Chu was once a self-proclaimed “T-shirt and shorts type of person,” Knight was of a long-sleeve leaning.

But when she reluctantly benched those sleeves, an observant woman marveled at her achievement.

“And from there on, it was like, this is so powerful,” she told Blades. “And this is something I need to own. It was like a transformation in that moment. So when we got the call for the Body Issue, I was like, ‘Absolutely! Sign me up.’ You have to own your body and be happy and confident in it.”

As the late Seamus Heaney explained to readers in his translation of the millennium-old epic tale, Beowulf “renounces the use of weapons” before embarking on his introductory skirmish with Grendel. For her own breakout into the mainstream spotlight, Knight renounced the use of clothing.

Such choices may have seemed foolhardy to the surface viewers. A woman seeking to slay sexist stereotypes surely would not want to do so while physically exposed any more than a medieval warrior would expect to eliminate the enemy sans sword, right?

That might have been the more prevailing logic, except Chu had broken the women’s hockey ice by participating in the 2011 edition. Her subsequent accounts were the breakout pass, which Knight happened to pick up and ultimately take to the open ice her New York acquaintance’s words created.

“I’m not one of those players and people that go out and flaunt my body,” Chu admitted six years after the fact.

With that said, having done it, Chu went back and accentuated the positive when she related the experience to her teammates, Knight included.

“(W)e don’t have to be a certain way to consider it beautiful, and Hilary’s a great example where, if you’re looking at hockey players, she’s one of the bigger, taller hockey players across the board.” – Julie Chu

“I told her and my teammates why it was important for me to do the Body Issue and why it was a really positive experience for myself,” Chu said. “Even though it was intimidating being that vulnerable during the photo shoot, the professionalism of everyone involved and (knowing) that what they were trying to portray really coincided with what I believed in as far as the strong and powerful women that we can be, and embracing all of the different types of bodies that we do have.

“I think it was more those conversations with Hilary and my teammates that probably allowed her to feel more comfortable and say, ‘Yes, I’m all in for this,’ when the opportunity came.”

By 2014, when that chance came in the wake of Knight’s second Olympic go-round, the Body Issue’s traction had amounted to its sixth annual edition. And ESPN’s tasteful celebration of winning physiques was Knight’s inlet to a droving education campaign.

On the heels of her stint as a skating, stick-wielding Discobolus, she launched the “Strong is Beautiful” rallying cry. She took her cause to the Foudy-led panel, and plugged it into ads for GoPro, Red Bull and Dove Always, just to name three. The latter was an offshoot of 2015’s #LikeAGirl campaign, which began during Super Bowl XLVIII and grew to envelope several realms besides Knight’s passing puck reference.

There had been nothing of that nature in the 1999-01, 2003-05 or 2011-13 Olympic-free interludes. The only close comparison was Ruggiero’s 2007 stint on The Apprentice, an early look at the business knowhow she recently used to help clinch the 2028 Summer Olympics for Los Angeles.

Though still a niche within a niche, women’s hockey has a more consistent presence in the flow of sports marketing and in the push for more open-minded perceptions of body images. And that presence has been embodied by the most imposing representative available.

At a listed 172 pounds, Knight outmuscles each of the other 22 Americans vying for a passport to PyeongChang. At 5-foot-11, her stature trails only that of defender Lee Stecklein for the tallest on the team.

“It’s amazing,” Chu said. “Any time we can get out into the media and get out a message of ‘Strong is beautiful, strong is beautiful’ and different body types are beautiful, I think it’s incredible.

“I love that Hilary is able to do that. We oftentimes get the singular message of maybe more of the model-type bodies that are not realistic, and airbrushed people. I think it’s understanding that we don’t have to be a certain way to consider it beautiful, and Hilary’s a great example where, if you’re looking at hockey players, she’s one of the bigger, taller hockey players across the board.

“So for her to be able to still be comfortable in her skin and to show that being a strong, determined athlete can be beautiful, that it doesn’t have to be to be small and petite…that’s a powerful message that we want to continue to send to our young girls, but then everyone, to women and men, that there’s a lot of ways to define beauty, and I think that campaign was a great way to showcase that.”

Hilary Knight and her bold, balanced buildup, three years in the works

Former college and current international teammate Brianna Decker was one of six women’s hockey players to follow Knight’s act in the Body Issue. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

In one of Knight’s rare respites from the camera, the campaign returned to its de facto point of origin this summer. The full starting lineup of Rigsby, Bellamy, Lamoureux, Lamoureux, Duggan and Decker renewed the national program’s unofficial every-three-years Body Issue pattern. And it fulfilled Knight’s statement in the video interview from her 2014 ESPN shoot.

“There’s so many great comments and compliments that I’ve gotten over the last few years,” she said in the clip. “It’s really driven me to be, like, ‘Okay, I’m very confident that I’m fit and healthy in my body,’ and if I can have that be contagious with other people in this society, that would be great.”

The 2017 team-oriented project also secured a little symmetry to an icebreaking three-year interim between the easy publicity that comes with the five-ring festival fever. This interlude was less idle for precise reasons that point back to Knight.

“Hilary is well-known due to her marketing and endorsement deals,” Stock said, “but I do believe that many of the girls are trying to capitalize on that aspect of being an Olympic athlete, as they should. The ESPN Body Issue is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and really shows just how physically fit these women are and should be given credit just as any male professional athlete.”

Chu, the first player in the program to cream her comfort zone, picked her spots when assessing the strides and doling out the credit. She had, for certain, set the foundation in 2011. Knight had picked up the torch when Chu left the national program, then taken extra steps at such events as the ESPNW summit after constituting women’s hockey’s Body Issue encore.

Did her uninterrupted media presence thus cement her six teammates’ willingness to follow suit? Not necessarily, but the others were following the act of an exemplary leader, consciously or not.

“I think it’s just the progression of it all,” Chu said, “and it speaks to the ESPN Body Issue over the years and why athletes are more comfortable being part of that issue. It’s the reason I was comfortable being part of it in 2011, because I had seen previous issues and how it was all put together to show the strength and beauty in honoring all of the different body types.

“If anything, I think it’s along the lines of that same progression that Hilary helped to contribute to. I had a great experience, she had a great experience with it as well, and then it kind of continues to encourage, encouraging our six other athletes to feel comfortable being in that environment, being vulnerable and understanding why they wanted to do it.”

Twitter toe-drags
Knight was anything but a solo cockpit occupant when Team USA waged a funding feud with its governing body. But attention-wise, she was an exceptionally crucial figure when the core group’s future on the ice was the voluntarily risked entity at hand.

Case in point: ESPN TV host Bob Ley invited her to explain the matter on Outside the Lines two weeks before the 2017 World Championship was to commence. Ley was apt to mention the prospect of USA Hockey fielding a home team for the Plymouth, Mich.-hosted tournament with willing, albeit less skilled and less seasoned, players.

To that, Knight matter-of-factly replied, “I dare them to put something together.”

Per the OTL segment, the top-level women had been seeking funds equal to their male counterparts since early in 2016. With an ill-timed slowdown in that arena, they threatened to sit out what amounted to the IIHF’s last PyeonChang preview.

Their participation in that preview, as well as the PyeonChang odyssey itself, was, in one of Chu’s go-to adjectives, vulnerable. And they all knew it.

Beginning with the on-ice captain, Duggan, the squad appropriated the recent International Women’s Day slogan on March 15. In a rollout not unlike the walk down the runway at faceoff time, each player took to Twitter to post the same message, with one person posting it per minute.

The hashtag #BeBoldForChange was their uniform for the moment, and Knight was again the most prominent color-bearer. With roughly 70.6 thousand followers, her account nearly doubles the attention pull of Amanda Kessel, who is the team’s first runner-up on that leaderboard with 35.6 thousand. Captain Duggan is third with 18.4 thousand. Decker, the reigning NWHL MVP and a finalist for Sportswoman of the Year, is fourth with 11.4 thousand.

Knight’s turn at the Ides of March proclamation was shared more than 3,800 times and liked by more than 7,000 users. And all eligible substitutes justified her “dare” by refusing to service the Star-Spangled sweater. If anything, they pounced on the lack of a maximum numbers limit by joining the #BeBoldForChange team instead.

Meanwhile, the squad garnered such high-profile boosters as Billie Jean King, a tennis pioneer whose heyday coincided with the infancy of Title IX; Mike Eruzione, the 1980 Olympic hockey gold-medal captain; Bret Hedican, an NHL retiree with an Olympic figure-skating spouse in Kristi Yamaguchi; and Carli Lloyd, a 2015 World Cup clutch kicker.

Hilary Knight and her bold, balanced buildup, three years in the works

With her team-high Twitter outreach, Knight effectively set up her own World Championship-clinching play by gaining support and public pressure for the team’s conditional cause. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The would-be subs were never called for. The boycott ended three days before the round-robin opener in Plymouth. Another week elapsed, and none other than Knight sizzled home a sudden-death strike to clinch the 2017 World Championship crown over Canada.

From a USA Hockey perspective, it was quite the spontaneous storybook pattern, if there ever was one. But odds are Knight would not have felt nearly as satisfied with that momentous use of her Bauer if not for the deft use of her Hrunting beforehand.

“Social media was a huge component in moving those negotiations along,” observed Chu, who has roughly 25,000 Twitter followers to her credit. “So I think Hilary, with her fan base, along with all the other athletes, and utilizing social media to be able to get out the messages, to be able to create a conversation around what was happening and why it was important for them, and then afterwards the following up with USA Hockey together, moving forward together in a positive direction.

“Those messages are all more easily conveyed through social media. Not only in the difficult time during the negotiations, because that’s always the challenging time for both sides. But then, now realizing, ‘Okay, now we’re back on the same page and moving forward together’ as a unified USA Hockey, having pushed the needle forward for equality.”

Beowulf’s sword may have shirked its function in his second major battle with Grendel’s mother, though he still prevailed. Similarly, Twitter and its brethren can arbitrarily backfire on ambitious users seeking support. Look no further than contemporary heads of state, like the one who once had Ruggiero as an Apprentice.

That has hardly been a problem for Knight. With her account, she passes publicity with soft hands and unleashes swift, straightforward slappers and wristers. And maybe the occasional backhander when she decides to use more than half of the 140-character allotment.

“Obviously, she’s done very well for herself, and she’s great at engaging fans,” Chu said. “And I think that’s a huge component now that social media drives a lot of different things, and is hopefully used in a positive way.

“Hilary’s found a way to be able to do that, to get a chance to market herself and the different brands that she’s associated with, but more importantly to grow women’s hockey interest at all the different levels with a lot of different types of fans.”

Focus on February
Entering her 12th season of top-tier IIHF play and her third Olympic tour, Knight is still merely 28 years of age. No single task on the ice or pertaining to her regal advertising status is a questionable order.

The towering profile of the Olympics will bring one new element. For all of the media training she has pursued and logged, she has chiefly been reaching out to established women’s hockey enthusiasts and general hockey enthusiasts inclined to broaden their scope of fanaticism.

Through the stretch between the Sochi cool-down and PyeonChang warmup, the bulk of her presence has been via YouTube- and other web-based ads and archived interviews, segments and engagements. Internet users only need to submit hockey-oriented queries to draw her output in the display of recommendations.

For all that has done to enrich her following, the dynamics and demographics are liable to mutate in the 2017-18 season. With Knight figuring to spell Chu as the women’s hockey ambassador to the USOC’s corporate partners, old-fashioned television will chime in.

As it happens, NBC will carry Super Bowl LII on Feb 4, five days before the opening ceremonies in PyeonChang. It would not be a stretch to suspect Knight, along with ad-bound athletes from other sports, will be ticketed for a few flakes amidst the blizzard of extravagant, exorbitant retail spots.

This means many viewers who are simply more patriotic than puckheaded figure to get their first impressions of her. But at this juncture, the expanded presentation will be more of a formality than a finale.

“Hilary’s going to do very well for herself,” said Chu. “We’re talking now, on an individual basis in sponsorship, she’s really established herself as a premier hockey player, and she’s able to present herself well and present a strong confident person, which she is, and that’s a great quality that sponsors want to have associated with their brands.”

NBC will carry this year’s Super Bowl five days before the opening ceremonies, leaving the possibility for promos featuring Knight during the big game.

She later added, “Hilary’s been kind of on this path now since leading up to 2014, so she has a lot of great support and advisers and people around her that are going to help her manage all of that and understand the balance of it all.”

And by that first week of February, she will mostly be just another one of the American pucksters, whereas Beowulf never quite went back to being another one of the Geats or Jutes. This third well-documented battle will be a simple grind for the gold that has eluded Team USA since Ruggiero was a senior at Choate in 1998.

“The bottom line is Hilary’s one of the best players in the world,” Chu said, “and she’s really continuing to push the envelope to be a great player and a dominant player at that level and be able to play both ends of the ice.

“And on top of that, she’s also loved and wants to engage with the community and the fans around, and I think that’s a great combo because it allows her not only to develop as a player and continue to play the sport she loves, but also continue to grow the fan base for herself and for women’s hockey and our national team. It’s been a great situation for everyone, and I think she’s going to have an incredible year and the team is going to have an incredible year.”

“All of these additional things,” she continued, “whether it’s the six players in the ESPN Body Issue or other players getting sponsorships or Hilary getting sponsorships…at the end of the day, it’s what energies are we going to have to consolidate to be an effective team so that when the team gets on the ice in February, everyone is ready and focused and prepared.

“And I think that’s Hilary’s goal as well — even with all these other things on her plate — finding that balance to be ready for February.”

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Al Daniel

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