Darien's Spencer Knight eager to represent US at World Junior Championships

As a three-year veteran of the International Ice Hockey Federation’s World Junior Championships, Darien’s Spencer Knight has a unique perspective on the holiday competition.

There’s a clear goal this year: Team USA is aiming to come home with medals after missing out last winter. But as Knight points out, there’s more to the tournament than the tangibles.

“It’s really important to take in every single day,” Knight, Team USA’s starting goalie, said. “It’ll be nice to start the tournament and hopefully have a lot of fun. You don’t realize how cool it is when you’re playing, but when you look back at the tournament a couple of months later, you realize it’s a pretty cool experience.”

The WJC tournament is just part of an impressive two years for Knight, a sophomore at Boston College. He had a 23-8-2 record as a freshman with the Eagles last winter, ranking fifth in the country in winning percentage (.727), and ninth in save percentage (.931) and goals against average (1.97).

Knight was drafted by the Florida Panthers in the first round, 13th overall, in the 2019 NHL Draft, and he started his sophomore campaign at BC this year with four straight wins, including a pair of shutouts, before departing to prepare for the WJC tournament.

The map of his future with college and the pros is still uncharted.

“The Florida Panthers is a great organization and Boston College — I love that place,” Knight said. “I’ve thought about it a bit, but there hasn’t been a definitive answer yet. With all the uncertainty about what’s to come, I think it’s important not to rush it. At the end of the day, me, my family and everyone involved will make the best decision (for the future).”

For now, Knight’s focus is on bringing home a medal in his final year of the WJC tournament.

Games will be held from Dec. 25 through Jan. 5 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and the Americans will face off against Russia at 9:30 p.m., Christmas Day, on the first day of the preliminary round.

The US and Russia are in Group B along with Austria, the Czech Republic, and Sweden. After a round robin, the top four teams from Groups A and B will advance to a quarterfinal bracket.

Knight, who played one season at Avon Old Farms before joining the U.S. National Developmental Program, has been through the WJC tournament twice before.

In 2018, he was the backup when Team USA took the silver medal, and he started last year, when the U.S. was knocked out by Finland 1-0 in the quarterfinals. Knight saved 28 of 29 shots in that loss, but Finland’s Justus Annunen was perfect with 30 saves for the shutout.

Knight pointed out that anything can happen in one game, so the key is to remain in the moment.

“You’re going to play a lot of great teams and it’s such a short tournament; you’re not always going to play your best,” Knight said. “There’ll be times when people or teams make mistakes, and when that happens, you can’t let it beat you down. You really just have to get back up, forget about it, and keep moving on.

“It’s too short to get caught up in all that stuff.”

Knight is one of eight players to return from last year’s U.S. National Juniors, including fellow goalie Dustin Wolf of Gilroy, Calif.

Getting a chance to start last year helped Knight find a rhythm.

“Any goalie you talk to will tell you that when you’re playing more, you become more comfortable and things almost become easier,” Knight said. “That’s big — being able to feel out the grind of the tournament and playing those back-to-backs. It gets you into a flow.”

Knight has two Boston College teammates on the U.S. roster — defenseman Drew Helleson and forward Matthew Boldy — and has played with many others on the U.S. National program.

The team is coached by Nate Leaman, who has led Providence College for nine seasons, and John Vanbiesbrouck, one of the top American goalies in NHL history, is the general manager.

“It’s a combination of great players and great coaches,” Knight said. “Everyone is coming from different schools and different teams, so once the tournament starts, you’ve got to adapt, get used to each other, and become a team. If we focus on what’s going on that day, I think we should do pretty well.”

Team USA’s players started practicing in Michigan two weeks ago, and then traveled to Edmonton early last week, where they spent several days in isolation in their hotel rooms, a safety precaution due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last Friday, they were able to get on the ice for their first day of practice at Rogers Place. The tournament will be held in a bubble with no fans.

After spending a summer without much hockey, Knight said getting back to school life at Boston College and having a chance to play again has been a welcome relief.

“If I’ve learned anything from my time off this summer, it’s that you really can’t take anything for granted,” Knight said. “You’re so lucky just to go to school and see your friends. Take it day-by-day and don’t be so hard on yourself. There are worse problems out there.

“Playing hockey is something that I love to do, so it’s just nice to be back and I’m not taking it for granted.”

david.stewart@hearstmediact.com; @dstewartsports