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Pro hockey defender Olivia Knowles remembers humble Vancouver Island beginnings

Campbell Riverite turned Minnesota Whitecap all-time games played leader at University of Minnesota
Campbell River native Olivia Knowles, pictured here, signed with the Minnesota Whitecaps last spring. Her team advanced to the Isobel Cup finals this weekend. Photo courtesy Kayla Franz/Minnesota Whitecaps

When Minnesota Whitecaps defender Olivia Knowles name is mentioned, a theme that continues to crop up is the word fearless.

After all, growing up in a large family, Knowles had to fight for everything growing up. It was one of the reasons she made hockey her sport of choice, after taking on gymnastics as a youngster. Knowles however, wouldn’t necessarily see it that way.

“I took on all sports,” said Knowles after practice before game two of the Isobel Cup playoff series against the Boston Pride on Saturday night, a game the Whitecaps prevailed 4-1 to advance to the Premier Hockey Federation — North America’s professional women’s hockey circuit — finals.

“I’m not one who’s afraid of a challenge or stepping outside of my boundaries. I usually try to jump into things with confidence and do my best at everything I do.”

No kidding. With a minor league hockey system that is now anchored by the Campbell River Minor Hockey Association (CRMHA)’s Tyees and girls’ Hurricanes, the foundation of girls hockey wasn’t yet available when Knowles’ grew up. Thus, she played on boys teams until her mid teens.

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“It was a tight-knit community,” Knowles said. “A lot of the people you saw at the rink, you saw at the soccer field or in school. You crossed paths with those people in school and stuff like that. I was never someone who settled being a bottom of the barrel player, as I never wanted to be looked at as the token girl. Practicing a lot with my older brothers’ team after my practices was a way of challenging myself as well.”

Those experiences developed Knowles as a player with a competitive edge and tenacious spirit. With those humble beginnings, she has excelled as a player at every stop, collecting medals with Team BC (in 2016), with the U18 Canadian national team, and at the University of Minnesota, where she holds the record for all-time games played with the Gophers.

She sees the opportunities she has gained as a result lead to signing with the Whitecaps last spring. Entering the Isobel Cup playoffs this year, Knowles sees her small town roots as something that has carried her to success with the professionals.

“In Campbell River growing up, there was always new people on the team, and new coaches,” said Knowles. “We had different obstacles each year, and we weren’t always the best team. That kind of experience is comparable to being professional. We were on a losing streak for a bit there, having won at the beginning of the season before the tides turned a bit. Facing that adversity playing hockey in Campbell River, helped out a lot. I knew we could figure it out and iron it out by the end. It was just a case of trusting the process.

“It’s the same kind of thing here. We are peaking at the right time, trusting the mentality that we’re going to sell out for one another. Hopefully we can go on a deep run.”

With their victory over the top-seeded Pride, the Minnesota Whitecaps now take on the Toronto Six this weekend for the Isobel Cup. Knowles says it’s a case of just doing the little things that will bring the Whitecaps success.

“We found a way to win,” said Knowles. “We just have to keep it going.”

Edward Hitchins

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