LIVONIA, Mich. -- Much has changed in one week for the U.S. women’s national ice hockey team.
Last Tuesday, the players and USA Hockey agreed to a four-year contract that significantly increased support for the team and ended a two-week players’ boycott just in time to report to Plymouth, Michigan, for the IIHF Women’s World Championship, which began Friday.
This Tuesday, the U.S. players woke up with a 3–0 record at those world championships and a bye into Thursday’s semifinals. Instead of having a quarterfinal game, they had a casual breakfast and a late-morning practice, followed by an autograph session and a team meeting. By 4 p.m., their bus was pulling back into the hotel, where the players and their families had four more hours to relax before another practice day Wednesday.
As for the agreement, which garnered international media attention last month?
“I haven’t really thought about it at all since I got here,” forward Haley Skarupa said.
“Now we’re here for a different reason,” said Amanda Pelkey, another U.S. forward. “That’s our main focus.”
They’ve done a good job re-focusing.
United behind the same leadership group that led the way in negotiations, the top-ranked U.S. team hardly looked distracted in dispatching the world’s three next-best teams during pool play. The Americans beat No. 2 Canada 2-0 in the opener Friday, followed by a 7-0 win over No. 4 Russia on Saturday and a 5-3 win over No. 3 Finland on Monday.
Through three games, Team USA’s Brianna Decker and Kendall Coyne led all players with seven and six points, respectively. In total, 12 players have recorded a point. Meanwhile, three different goalies recorded wins in the first three games.
It all adds up to a start that looks like it could lead to the championship game Friday night, a place very familiar to the three-time defending champion U.S. team.
“There’s been a lot that we’ve gone through in the past months here, and I think that we brought that energy into the very start of the tournament,” said Pelkey, who is competing in her second world championships. “So that’s helped us a lot.”
The boycott also brought newfound attention to the U.S. team, and now the players are looking to capitalize that attention to create new fans. Playing their games at USA Hockey Arena in suburban Detroit, and having NHL Network broadcast them, has given the team an ideal platform to show off.
“Some people, they didn’t even know that Team USA had a women’s hockey team,” Skarupa said.
Those who do tune in to the remaining U.S. games will see a close-knit team, Pelkey said, and a group that doesn’t lack for passion.
“I hope that they see how well we connect, and how fast that we play, how gritty we play, and how there’s not going to be one of us that gives up on any plays,” she said.
Skarupa, a veteran of the past two world championship teams, is more frontal about what fans should expect to see.
“Just how dominant we are and how, when we play other teams, they don’t really touch the puck that much,” she said. “That’s usually our goal is that we’re controlling the whole game, and they have to hope that they get a break.”
With less than a year to go before the next Olympic Winter Games, fans can also expect to get a preview of what’s to come in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Team USA has a veteran team in Plymouth, with seven two-time Olympians — Kacey Bellamy, team captain Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight, Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, Monique Lamoureux-Morando, Gigi Marvin and Kelli Stack.
Meanwhile, 17 of the 23 players from last year’s world championship team are back this year.
If history is any indication, those U.S. players could be facing off against Canada in Friday night’s championship game. Through 17 women’s world championships, dating back to 1990, those two teams have met in every final.
First, though, the Americans are back on the ice Thursday night, when they’ll take on Germany.
“I know we keep talking about this, but especially with what’s going on I think it’s a huge statement to show what we can do, our skill set, how close we all are,” Pelkey said. “I think that’s really important.”