An athlete is constantly encouraged to give everything they’ve got in every practice, for every shift, on every shot.
So when a hockey player — one who is used to putting every ounce she has into something over and over — is asked to step off the gas, it’s a tough transition. Repetition and muscle memory make it automatic to attempt the maximum. Anything less feels wrong.
But that’s what Theresa Knutson has had to learn how to do.
In her fourth year on the University of Connecticut’s women’s hockey team, the senior had to learn to focus less on giving every shot every ounce of strength she could muster, instead focusing her energy on giving every shot a better chance at going in the net.
That practice has paid off.
Knutson is fourth on the all-time goals list at Connecticut with 46 in four seasons. That’s one goal behind Michelle Binning, who ranks No. 3 on the list with 47. With eight games remaining in the regular season, Knutson has a great shot (no pun intended) at moving up. Knutson also ranks sixth for goals in a season with 19 in 2015-16, and seventh all-time for points in a career with 76. Connecticut (7-11-8, 1-10-5 WHEA) hosts Maine Friday and Saturday at the Max Edward Freitas Ice Forum in Storrs, Conn., which gives Knutson the the Huskies more chances at victories and points.
“My career has been amazing,” Knutson said in a recent phone interview. “I’ve grown so much as a player and as a person. On the ice, I’m a 200-feet player, I’ve really had to backcheck and get in the defensive zone. I’ve learned so much and really worked on my shot. You don’t have to shoot as hard as you can each time you shoot. Sometimes you have to shoot softer and shoot for the rebound. It’s not as easy as you would think.”
While playing high school hockey for the Onalaska girls co-op, Knutson’s shot was one of the hardest in the state, which is something that caught Connecticut coach Chris MacKenzie’s eye.
“Her shot is elite,” MacKenzie said. “She’s always had a hard shot. It’s as hard as some men. If it doesn’t hit the net, there are times when it ends up back in our zone. She’s had to learn to take some off of it and think about accuracy. She’s led the team in shots every year.”
Knutson has fired 95, 102 and 121 shots in her first three seasons. This season, she has 93 — and counting.
“I’m a shoot-first kind of player,” Knutson said. “I’ve had to learn to sometimes make a few moves.”
Knutson’s shot was honed from many hours spent in her parents’ garage — which was cleared of all breakable things — shooting pucks over and over. A large board was placed on the “shot wall” so less holes were made in it, a testament to the eye-popping velocity of Knutson’s shot.
“My garage is pretty empty now,” Knutson said. “There’s a few broken things. My parents started to take things down. Every day I would shoot a ton of pucks over and over. I wasn’t really thinking, I was just shooting. It shows because I shoot top corner all the time. If I score low glove or blocker, it’s probably because I whiffed on the puck.”
With a variety of shots in her arsenal, Knutson also learned how to be on the other side of the puck and the art of blocking a shot. Knutson knows how a blocked shot can frustrate a shooter and give her team a momentum swing, not to mention giving the goalie one less shot to worry about.
“I don’t know if I ever blocked a shot until college,” Knutson said. “I love to do it. Once you buy into a system, and trust the system, it’s no big deal. It’s easy. It’s kind of cool when you block one and get a nice big bruise.
“I’ve had my fair share of shots blocked, too.”
After graduation, Knutson would like to take her shot overseas and extend her playing career in Europe. The European season starts in September, and Knutson is looking into the process. All she knows is she wants to play another year of hockey, and playing in Europe would give her a chance to see a different part of the world.
For now, she isn’t focused on personal accolades, such as moving up on the all-time goals list. She’s focused on the Huskies’ final eight regular-season games.
“I have not thought about it (moving up on the list),” Knutson said. “I’m not focusing on it and the points will come. We have such a team mentality here and I’ve been taught that two points (for a win) is more important than one goal.”