weather icon Cloudy
RJ App
Vegas News, Alerts, ePaper

Highlight-reel Bilka on track for bright future with US hockey

There are a handful of women’s college hockey highlights that have found large audiences on the internet and social media in the past 15 months.

Hannah Bilka played a starring role in most of them.

Bilka, a senior left wing at Boston College, is one of the most exciting players at the college level thanks to her combination of quickness and creativity.

She made her debut in the 2022-23 Rivalry Series for the U.S. women’s national team Thursday in the Americans’ 3-2 loss against Team Canada at the Dollar Loan Center.

“I just try to take every moment in and not take it for granted,” Bilka said. “Every practice is so important because I get that only a few times a year. I really just try to take every practice in and get better.”

Bilka, 21, grew up in Coppell, Texas, outside of Dallas and followed her brother into the sport. After playing on boys teams until the age of 14, Bilka joined the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite team for tournaments to get exposure for college.

As a sophomore, she moved on to the famed Shattuck-St. Mary’s prep school in Faribault, Minnesota, and finished with 26 goals and 65 points in 46 games as a senior, earning a scholarship to Boston College.

“It’s challenging being that young,” Bilka said. “You kind of have to make the decision to take hockey really seriously. I think that’s where I made that switch to, ‘I want to take this to a high level.’”

Bilka earned WHCA National Rookie of the Year honors in 2019-20 after leading the Eagles in scoring and was a Hockey East First Team All-Star as a junior.

But it’s her highlight reels plays that have attracted the attention of the hockey world, most notably ESPN’s John Buccigross.

During a game against Maine on Oct. 23, 2021, Bilka torched a Black Bears defender with an outside-in toe drag and set up Boston College teammate Abby Newhook for an easy goal. Video of the play has more than 292,000 views on Twitter.

Bilka’s coast-to-coast effort against Vermont in February has been viewed more than 185,000 times on Twitter, and her goal against Franklin Pierce in September, when she weaved through three defenders and knocked the puck in out of midair, has almost 98,000 views.

“She reminds me a lot of (Anaheim Ducks forward) Trevor Zegras, if I were compare her to a player on the men’s side,” Team USA coach John Wroblewski said. “In a class of players that is the best of what they do, she to me is elite at playmaking and one-on-one ability. We’re very excited about her future.”

Bilka played for Team USA at the 2022 IIHF Women’s World Championship and produced five goals and 12 points in seven games for the silver medalists.

She will finish her senior season at Boston College and is likely to become a mainstay on Team USA for the future.

Against Canada, Bilka skated on the third line with fellow collegians Taylor Heise (Minnesota) and winger Lacey Eden (Wisconsin) and nearly tied the game on a late power play, but her shot with 10 seconds left was turned aside.

Canada’s Sarah Nurse scored the winning goal on a tight-angle shot with 4:56 remaining after Team USA’s Hilary Knight tied the score at 2 on a breakaway at 6:21 of the third.

The loss was the first in four games in the series for Team USA. The teams play again Monday at Los Angeles and will meet twice more in Canada at later dates.

“As much as we’d like (Bilka) to be here and contributing every night and being a top point-getter, we do understand it’s a process with her and there’s a development path along the lines,” Wroblewski said. “There’s no pressure on her to go and produce right now. We want her to play well, we want her game to grow. It’s cliche, but getting better every day.”

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.