Carleton University defender Rachel Knee is all about the greater good. You might even say that the 6-foot-2 Ravens rearguard is in the process of planting some important shade trees for her school’s women’s hockey program. The effort Knee is investing into Carleton may not specifically pay dividends to her in the now, but the positive impact she is making will have a ripple effect for seasons to come.
“I’m in a large graduating class,” Knee explained to THW. “I’m going to graduate with all of my friends, which I love, but I want to make sure that we are doing everything that we can as collective whole to leave the program in the best shape that we can leave it in. It’s nice to know that when you dedicate enough time to a program as we have as players for Carleton, that you’re leaving it in hands of people that you trust.”
The 2019-20 season with the Ravens will be Knee’s senior campaign. She is one of five players for Carleton who are in the same boat. And while Knee does have a fifth season of eligibility left – something she has not yet ruled out – she is all-in to make her fourth season the finest one yet.
Knee spent a Sunday morning speaking with THW one-on-one. She shared on not only what Carleton has given her both academically and athletically, but how her choices have ultimately prepared her for the future.
A Dual Major and a Hockey Player
Knee’s first season for the Ravens came in 2016-17. A native of Toronto, she played her youth hockey with the Toronto Leaside Wildcats in the Provincial Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) – a league often regarded as the highest level of junior women’s ice hockey in Ontario.
Making the decision to move to Ottawa and enroll at Carleton, Knee is majoring in both political science and psychology. It is a balancing act that certainly keeps her very busy – especially adding in the hockey part too – but it has been the absolute right path for her to go forth upon.
“Moving to Ottawa was the best decision I could have made in terms of that,” she explained. “I am super-lucky in the sense that I get to double major and play hockey at the same time. In terms of my time and my life, it’s a lot, but I really do like it.”
Knee went on to say, “Playing hockey at Carleton has been amazing because it really pushes me as a person. Especially in personal growth, as well as always becoming better and always doing better. The growth that I’ve made as a player from my first year to now, I don’t think I could have done so without the feedback and encouragement from my coaches. I hold myself accountable, yes, but definitely the feedback I get and the constructive criticism, as well as the coaching from the staff that I’ve had, I wouldn’t have had the same general growth without the direction from them.”
A Crisp Passer With a Whale of a Shot
The first thing that one notices about Knee on the ice is obviously her size. There are not many 6-foot-2 women’s hockey players in the world, let alone the college or university level. But there is much more to Knee’s game than just her size. She is a defender with incredible vision along the ice, and does a strong job of spotting openings to feed pucks to shooters or up into the rush.
“I think I can pass well and I can shoot,” she laughed as she put emphasis on the last word.” I think especially since I’ve started at Carleton, my strong suits as a player have changed. When I came in I wasn’t nearly as strong as I am now defensively. My defensive game has grown a lot since then. I know that I’ve always done well in breaking the puck out. I definitely think that I see the ice pretty well. In terms of moving the puck, I do make a good first pass and I move it pretty quickly.”
Knee has played a total of 45 U Sports games for Carleton in her three seasons. In that time she has compiled five assists and 24 penalty minutes. Injuries in the recent 2018-19 season limited her to 11 of the Ravens’ 20 games, so she is looking to rebound in the season ahead.
“I know my second year I played a lot stronger than I did in this past season,” Knee reflected. “I had some setbacks in terms of injuries. Going into year four and knowing that I’m going to graduate, I just want to have the best year I can possibly have. Just to graduate knowing that I put everything that I can put into the program. I want to just play hockey, play well, and have fun.”
Looking out for Others and Leading by Example
The biggest difference that Rachel Knee makes for her hockey team is not necessarily her booming shot or her tape-to-tape passing. Rather, it is how she carries herself off the ice, and how invested she is in her teammates and their well-being. Knee makes it a point of looking out for the newest Ravens, especially now that she is a senior and one of the elder stateswomen of the squad.
She also speaks from experience.
“Personally,” Knee shared, “my transition to leaving from home wasn’t as smooth as I thought it would be. I did struggle a lot with moving away from Toronto, and moving into a city that I didn’t know many people from. I think the big thing I go out of my way to do is to reach out to incoming players. Let them know that we’re there for them. If they have any questions or if they need anything – even if it’s just a home cooked meal. I think that is something I make sure to go the extra mile with. I think the big thing is just letting them know to ask, and that it’s okay.”
In many ways, Knee is just paying it forward. The adjustment from high school to university can be tricky to navigate, especially for women’s hockey players and it being their first time away from home. Fortunately, veteran Ravens looked out for Knee when she was a first-year too.
“I think it’s important,” she went on to say, “especially when girls come to Carleton or girls hockey in general. A lot of girls are coming straight out of high school. As much as you think you’re an adult at the age of 18, the growth that you will make in the first three years of your university experience is remarkable. I look back to who I was in first year – holy smokes! The transition and the growth, especially as a player and as a person. My seniors were there for me. My old captain, who is now going to be one of our coaching staff, I remember my first month she reached out to me and it meant a lot, even though she did not have to do that at all.”
The 2019-20 Ravens Season and Beyond
The Carleton Ravens begin their 2019-20 season with a series of 10 exhibition games, starting on Sept. 1 against John Abbott College. The regular season gets underway on Oct. 18 when the Ravens face the University of Montreal.
This season will be Knee’s opportunity to lay it on the line just as she intends to. It may be her senior season, but in many ways it is also very much a beginning. With the start just around the corner, Knee has been working on having a proper balance between offense and defense, and has set her face like flint.
“In terms of my future with hockey,” she explained. “I can’t imagine myself being someone who never plays again. Whether it’s at the level I play at now, I’m not exactly sure. I think that this year is going to be a big year with realizing what I want to do with my life.”
And she is considering all of her options too. If Knee looks to obtain her masters, she still has that fifth season of eligibility where she could suit up for the Ravens for one more go.
Knee’s older sister Sarah – a Cornell University alum – currently plays in Hungary for KMH Budapest in the Elite Women’s Hockey League (EWHL) – a league consisting of several teams from primarily Central Europe. The younger Knee has also considered the possibility of playing in Europe too.
Point being though, she does not have to chose now. Knee can enjoy the moment, and maintain her focus on the season ahead. The rest will fall into place as time moves along.
“I haven’t closed any doors,” she said. “I’ve learned through going to university that I’m a lot more passionate about my academic goals than I had realized. I do know that I have a year of (hockey) eligibility left. Whether that is something that comes into play if I go and do a masters, only time will tell. Seeing my sister’s experiences going to Europe has opened my eyes as being something that maybe I would look into too. I would love to travel while getting to play hockey, which is an ideal position for any athlete.”
Perseverance and Preparation for the Future
If anything is for certain, it is that Rachel Knee’s time at Carleton has best prepared for her next steps in life – hockey or otherwise. She has faced adversity through injury. Has contended with less than desirable outcomes – the Ravens record through her three seasons with the team has been 9-43-5-3. But no matter what she has faced, Knee has persevered and developed as a person.
“I think a big one,” Knee responded when asked about what hockey has taught her, “especially with playing on a team that has struggled at times to have the record we are capable of, is that the ability to handle adversity has been important. It doesn’t feel great to lose – no one likes losing.”
Knee ended our conversation with, “I think that perseverance is something that I’ve learned growing up as a player, but it has definitely reappeared in my life since I’ve been at Carleton. As someone who has dealt with injuries before, those have been hard. I think learning to persevere through challenges is an experience I don’t think I would have gotten anywhere else.”
“I enjoy learning as a collective whole, and working with others to push towards your goals. Being able to take those setbacks and take them with grace, and then move forward is really important.”
General Manager of the Buffalo Beauts (NWHL). Hockey history writer “The Hockey Writers”. Credentialed media for the NHL Combine and 2018 IIHF World Junior Championships in Buffalo, NY, USA. Born and raised in Buffalo, NY. Lifelong hockey fan for over 40 years. Proponent of the women’s game.