Since she was 5 years old, Hilary Knight told friends and family that, someday, she would represent her country in the Olympics.

On Feb. 12, Knight made that dream a reality. Less than two weeks later, she received a silver medal as a member of the U.S. Olympic women’s hockey team.

Now that she’s reached her dream, she’s been posed with a new question. What’s next?

“My first vacation in three years is actually in two weeks,” Knight answered. “So, I’m pretty excited about that.”

Knight’s destination for that vacation? St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

When Team USA faced Canada in the gold medal game 10 days ago, it was the culmination of lifelong dreams for 15 members of the American squad participating in their first Olympic Games. Among those was Knight, who at 20 years old was the youngest member of the Team USA women’s hockey squad.

Another Olympic rookie for the U.S. National Squad was 22-year-old Meghan Duggan. For Duggan, a native of Danvers, Mass., the 16-day event more than lived up to expectations.

When asked to describe the atmosphere of the gold medal game, Duggan said it was like nothing she’s ever experienced.

“It was unbelievable; it was an amazing atmosphere to play hockey in,” she said. “[It was] everything I’d ever dreamed of. We had a great time out there. Although we fell short, it was amazing to represent my country as well as my university here at Wisconsin.”

Knight and Duggan, both of whom took a year off from UW to compete in Vancouver, were honored last week at the Kohl Center before Wednesday’s basketball game between Wisconsin and Iowa. Erika Lawler and Jessie Vetter, their fellow members of Team USA and UW alumni, joined them for the ceremony.

They were not in Madison for long, however.

According to Duggan, it was just one stop on their trip back to the East Coast.

“I’m only here for the night,” Duggan said. “I’m driving back home to Boston. I just packed up everything in Minneapolis and now I’m on my way home — a 22-hour road trip.”

Like Knight, though, Duggan plans to take some time off after competing for three years at Wisconsin and the past six months with Team USA.

Unlike her teammate, however, she did not reveal any plans to travel to a tropical location.

“I’m just kind of taking a breather,” Duggan said. “I’ve been going pretty hard for the last however-many-years of my life to achieve that goal. I’m just kind of taking a little break right now, relaxing and taking the time to thank everyone.”

In what may be bad news for their NCAA opponents, though, Knight and Duggan do not plan on letting up when they return to the collegiate level.

Despite having achieved a silver medal against the world’s best competition, the duo will rejoin the Badgers as the leading returning scorers from Wisconsin’s 2009 national championship squad. That, coupled with Olympic experience, should provide a significant boost to a UW squad that was consistently inconsistent in 2009-10.

In light of their respective abilities on the ice and experience against international competition, Knight and Duggan recognize their position as leaders of the Wisconsin women’s hockey team, despite being away from it for a year.

“Meghan and I have a huge responsibility to take what we’ve learned in the past year and bring that to the collegiate level and this team,” Knight said. “We’re going to be a great team; so, I’m really excited.”

As busy as they were, Wisconsin’s Olympic duo kept track of the current Badgers throughout their time with Team USA. They acknowledged it was difficult to be away from the team they had spent so much time with since beginning their college careers.

To watch them struggle and ultimately miss the NCAA Tournament was even tougher.

Duggan’s hope is to bring additional knowledge and energy to the UW squad.

“I’m kind of a loud, outgoing player and a leader,” Duggan said. “I’m just excited to get back, be with the girls and kind of get back into the groove of things and be living in Madison.”

As a team sport, hockey is unlike most events at the Winter Games.

While finishing second out of eight teams is good for Team USA, losing the final game of the tournament makes that moment a bittersweet one for the silver medalists.

Despite that initial disappointment, though, both Knight and Duggan have realized just what the accomplishment truly means to their hockey careers.

For Knight, that moment came during the medal ceremony.

“When we were being awarded our silver medals, the whole crowd just broke out in the ‘U-S-A’ chant,” Knight said. “At that point, I just lost it — I found my parents in the stands and tears just started coming down. … I felt like an Olympian and felt like I accomplished something.”

Duggan, on the other hand, said it’s more about looking back on the journey itself — from making the squad to the gold medal game — rather than focusing on the end result.

“The whole six months that our team had together, we had so much fun,” she said. “Although we fell a little short in the gold medal game, we’re still medalists at the Olympic Games. That’s something that no one can ever take away from us, and something I’ll cherish for my whole life.”

When Knight and Duggan, along with Lawler and Vetter, were announced Wednesday night, they received a standing ovation from the Kohl Center crowd as they proudly displayed their silver medals.

It was an impressive moment, especially considering the four are proud of, but not satisfied with, their accomplishments in Vancouver.

It’s a safe bet to assume the four will represent the U.S. and UW again in 2014.

“I think there’s something like 1,436 days,” Knight said. “It’s definitely on my countdown calendar. … I want to go back and win gold.”

With that, Knight and Duggan’s journey to Sochi, Russia begins.

Jordan is a senior majoring in journalism and political science. Are you counting down the days until the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia as well? Let him know at [email protected]