If you think that the excitement around the hockey world for Hilary Knight and Marie-Philip Poulin to be teammates for the upcoming Canadian Women’s Hockey League season with Les Canadiennes in Montreal is overblown, consider the fact that Knight herself is still coming to grips with it.
“Our power play ...” Knight says, then pauses after saying just those three words with a smile. “We’re joking around ... we’ve got some great shooters, some great playmakers ... I mean that’s a really good power play. I look and I’m like ‘Wow, am I on the ice right now? This is good.’”
The power play unit includes Knight, Poulin, Olympic MVP Mélodie Daoust, Canadian National Team member Erin Ambrose, and, likely, Ann-Sophie Bettez, who just happens to be the most dominant CWHL player since she entered the league.
In their first shift together in the pre-season as a power play unit without Bettez, Poulin hit a one-timer from the circle less than 20 seconds into the penalty. Throughout the two pre-season games, it was a display of passing and puck movement. And Knight says they are still learning how to play together.
“We’re just figuring out what our rhythm is, and Calgary will be our first test,” she said. “I’m looking forward to a great season. We’ve got a great squad and the sky’s the limit.”
The fact that Knight and Poulin get to play together is significant because they are the faces of their respective national teams and are household names on both sides of the border. Now that the duo is a reality, Knight intends on using the opportunity.
“I know when people see [Poulin] and I they think about the rivalry, and that’s definitely still there when we are wearing different jerseys,” Knight said. “But I think it’s huge because all of us are trying to accomplish the same things off the ice and grow the game, and we like to have fun so when we can make the game easier on ourselves by playing with great players, it’s a lot of fun.”
“This is kind of like LeBron James, right? We have the dream team here. It really is every day coming to the rink, having fun and learning, and that’s all you can ask for as a hockey player.
“I think once we get rid of the pressure and play the first game it will be more fun, but I haven’t ever been able, except for a summer tournament, to be on the same team as [Poulin], [Daoust], and [Jillian] Saulnier and those guys. It’s different to practise with other players and personally as a player I really wanted to learn from other players and that’s what you have to do. You have to throw yourself in the fire and go and put yourself into a new city, and they are super gracious and super accommodating.”
As weird as it will be to some to see Knight and Poulin on the same team, it will be just as weird to see Knight and Calgary Inferno forward Brianna Decker being opponents. Decker and Knight were teammates at the University of Wisconsin, with the Boston Blades and the Boston Pride, and were often linemates with Team USA. Knight cannot recall a time when they played against each other, except maybe at training camp in scrimmages.
Decker is one of the best players in women’s hockey in her own right. She has won CWHL rookie of the year, is a two-time NWHL MVP and has three professional championships.
“[It will be] very difficult,” Knight said. “She’s a great player so I’m like ‘Shoot, I’m on the other end of this coin.’ It’s going to be a lot of fun. I think we’re all going to look forward to a really fast-paced game, what works, what doesn’t work. It’s going to be our first game, kicking it off with Calgary, so it’s going to be a lot fun.”
Knight is looking forward to having a full season in Montreal, with a little more time to soak it in. She only had limited practice time and one regular season game before two playoff games after coming to the team following the Olympics. Everyone, from Knight to coach Dany Brunet, will admit it was a near impossible situation.
“As hard as it was to hop in last year, people were extremely welcoming, but I feel like it’s a new season and I’ve had time to meet people in a different light and hopefully that’s going to start clicking,” she said.
“I love the city. I love the people. The fans are amazing, and I really love the organization and what they have accomplished on and off the ice and the way they treat their players. What better city to come to, learn from some of the best players in the world and compete, make plays and have fun on the ice?”
Montreal’s season opener will be on Saturday at Place Bell in Laval following the Laval Rocket game against the Binghamton Devils. A ticket for the AHL game will grant you admission for the CWHL game as well. Puck drop is expected to be around 6:30 PM.