It's late June in New York City and hockey is out of season. At least, the on-ice portion is out of season. For Hilary Knight, her career is about more than what happens on the ice.

In fact, for the last four months, Knight's on-ice commitments have stepped aside to allow her off-ice efforts to take center stage. On March 15, the U.S. Women's National Ice Hockey Team announced it planned to boycott the 2017 IIHF Women's World Championship, hosted by the United States, starting March 31, unless "significant progress" was made with USA Hockey in terms of fair wages and equitable support. With Knight's widespread social media following and name recognition (she's been in ESPN The Body Issue and has partnerships with such brands as Red Bull and GoPro), she became a leading spokesperson for the team's #BeBoldForChange movement.

What followed was a two-week period of jostling with USA Hockey. The association would not budge and floated the idea of using replacement players for the competition in Plymouth, Michigan. Meanwhile, Knight turned to media -- national, international and social -- communicating her team's fight for change. NHL players jumped in. Athletes from other sports got on board. Individuals outside of athletics paid attention. Knight met with young female hockey players, captivated by her perseverance.

"It was really heartfelt, to be honest," Knight says. "We knew that we were gonna get a lot of traction. I don't think I imagined we were gonna get that much traction.

"It was a dream come true if you're trying to start a movement."


On March 28, the hard work paid off. The U.S. Women struck a four-year deal with USA Hockey that would pay them $2,000 a month, plus performance incentives. According to USA Today, players will make roughly $70,000 per year and potentially over $100,000 in Olympic years (the USOC pays gold medal winners a $37,500 bonus). The players arrived in Plymouth for an official practice together on March 30. They won their opening game against Canada the following night, 2-0. The Americans then won three more games to set up a championship rematch with Canada, which the U.S. won 3-2 in overtime. Knight scored the game-winning goal.

"We went back in there in overtime and there wasn't a doubt in my mind," Knight says. "We were just so strong and so confident, I think the experience that we all shared the weeks prior really helped build that comradery and that character within all of us."

Publicly, the boycott lasted just shy of two weeks. Behind closed doors, the movement was budding for at least a year, as the players alluded to in their initial statement. In March 2016, the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team filed a federal complaint charging U.S. Soccer with wage discrimination, which provided a template for women's national teams to go about monetary progress.

"I remember coming out of college thinking, 'OK, I'm gonna get an agent and I'm gonna make money, I'm gonna make millions of dollars,'" Knight told ThePostGame in an interview organized by USA Hockey in February. "And that never happened. So it's like how do I make a living to compete, to play in the Olympics now?"

In mid-March, the players faced a fork in the ice. They could play through World Championships and pick up their fight in the 2018 Olympic cycle or they could push for immediate change before Plymouth. The team chose the latter.

"It was full speed ahead," Knight says. "For years, we've been talking about what we wanted to accomplish in the sport and what we wanted to leave as a legacy. Never did I ever doubt any of our actions in any way. It just speaks to our group and how powerful the message that we had that everybody was sort of able to rally around us and help us get what we needed.

"We were actually in negotiations for over a year, so it wasn't sort of an overnight thing, granted timing and leverage needed to be applied for an overnight thing, just to put World Championships on the line -- mind you, no big deal, but we had to go win World Championships, as well. It just speaks to our group and the tenacity that our group has and the will to compete."

Hilary Knight

At the Hashtag Sports conference in New York on June 26, Knight appeared on a panel entitled, "Ask the Influencer: An Intimate Dive into Influencer Marketing with Hockey Star & Influencer Hilary Knight," moderated by Ketchum's Ann Wool. Knight, who will turn 28 next week, probably learned enough in the last few months to run her own PR firm. She grabbed hold of her social media base and inspired it to serve as the foundation for a movement. Knight has over 70,000 Twitter followers, 68,000 Instagram followers and 25,000 Facebook likes. She used every inch of that to push her team's agenda in 13 days.

It is a safe hypothesis most of that data includes female hockey players younger than Knight. Not only do Knight's fans know she will inspire them in her actions, they also know she will engage. And now, wherever Knight goes, she is serenaded by fans. Considering Knight's soft-spoken nature and humility, she would rather talk about where the movement is going than soak in the spotlight.

"I get a lot of thank yous," she says. "It's great. I'm glad that they appreciate it, but it's something that was definitely necessary. We waited too long to actually do it. I much would much rather it happened sooner than later, but to be one of these pioneers and continue to build on Cammi [Granato]'s shoulders and Angela [Ruggiero]'s shoulders, and really leave another legacy moment within our sport and leave it better off when we found it, when the time comes, we can sort of walk away and say we did a good thing."

Women's hockey took a huge step forward this spring, and at least publicly, Knight is responsible for a lot of that. Backing up the performance with nine points, including the gold-medal goal, helped validate her cause.

Knight, who has already played in two Olympics, still has a ton left in the tank. Outside of Team USA, the former Wisconsin Badger is a member of the Boston Pride of the National Women's Hockey League, which is entering its third season. Knight knows she has more political and social capital within the sport while she continues to lace up her skates. But the journey has certainly taken its toll on Knight, and the ultimate goal now is to open up opportunities for the next era of women's hockey.

"I absolutely have loved my career path and everything that I've done personally, but it was tough," Knight says. "It was tough to get to where I am, to get the following that I do have on social media and all the fans out there, which I greatly appreciate, but I would love to have a template, so the next girl who grows up doesn't have to go through a lot of the hardships that we faced in our generation. I know previous generations did that for us, so it's continue to move the wheel forward and try to leave a better foundation than when you came in."

The U.S. Women's National Ice Hockey Team is not taking a break from the spotlight. In about a month, the squad will come together to start a six-month training period for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. The team has medaled in every Olympics since women's ice hockey joined the competition in 1998, but the U.S. has not won a gold medal since that first year.

The most powerful message the U.S. women can send is winning a gold medal.

"America wants a winning team and we want to be the team that brings that victory back," Knight said in February. "It would just open up so many more opportunities inside and outside our spot. No one remembers second place."

In 2017, Knight's challenge was to lead a movement for improved wages. That mission is accomplished. Now, it's on to Olympic gold.

Knight isn't in this alone. She has her teammates and she'll document the journey on social media. Just as she did when negotiating with U.S. Hockey, she'll feel the energy from her fans when she hits the ice next February in South Korea. And the nation will feed off her energy if she comes back an Olympic champion.

-- Follow Jeff Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband. Like Jeff Eisenband on Facebook.

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