By Dan Scifo | March 30, 2017, 1:33 p.m. (ET)
Members of Team USA celebrate after a 1-0 victory over Canada in the gold-medal game at the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship on April 4, 2016 in Kamloops, British Columbia.

 

The U.S. women’s national team and USA Hockey reached an agreement this week that will result in groundbreaking support for the U.S. women’s national team program.

Now, the team program wants to follow up the landmark agreement by making history.

The 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship begins Friday at the USA Hockey Arena in the Detroit suburb of Plymouth, Michigan, as athletes from the top eight nations in the world will compete for the gold medal.

Team USA has captured the last three world titles and six of the last seven. The Americans open tournament play against archrival Canada 7:30 p.m. ET Friday. The semifinal round is Thursday, April 6, and the medal rounds the following day.

Here are some of the biggest storylines to watch for heading into the competition:

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USA Hockey’s Groundbreaking Agreement

USA Hockey and the women’s national team came to its history-making agreement Tuesday night. The agreement ensures fans will see the U.S. team defend its gold medal during the tournament, which will take place on home ice.

“Our sport is the big winner today,” U.S. team captain Meghan Duggan said in a statement. “We stood up for what we thought was right and USA Hockey’s leadership listened. In the end, both sides came together. I’m proud of my teammates and can’t thank everyone who supported us enough. It’s time now to turn the page. We can’t wait to play in the world championship later this week in front of our fans as we try and defend our gold medal.”

 

Ready Or Not, Here Comes Canada

Due to delays from the negotiations, Team USA has its first official practice for the world championship on Thursday. That’s one day before the team is slated to face Canada in the opening game of the tournament for the Americans.

Despite the short turnaround time, the U.S. players say they are confident that they’ll be ready to defend their title. Players continued to prepare for the tournament, holding workouts, skates and training sessions in the event the two parties came to an agreement.

They will be tested right away. Team USA and Canada have met in the title game at every previous world championships, and no other country has won the Olympic gold medal in women’s hockey.

The two sides have traded momentum in recent years. Since Team USA fell to Canada 3-2 in overtime in the 2014 Olympic gold-medal game, the Americans have won seven of 12 games against Canada. However, Team USA most recently fell 5-3 and 3-2 against Canada in December as part of the Team USA Winter Champions Series.

If history holds up, the top-ranked Americans and second-ranked Canadians could meet again next week in the gold-medal game.

 

Streak Of Dominance For Americans

If you haven’t checked out the U.S. women since the 2014 Olympic gold-medal game, you’ve missed a lot of success. Since Sochi the Americans have won the next two world titles and are also coming off wins at the past two Four Nations Cups.

 

Team USA Brings Championship Experience

The U.S. team features 17 of the 23 players who were on last year’s world championship team, as well as 13 members of the 2014 Olympic team. Seven of those Olympians — Kacey Bellamy, Duggan, Hilary Knight, Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, Monique Lamoureux-Morando, Gigi Marvin and Kelli Stack — were also on the 2010 Olympic team, which also won a silver medal.

Megan Bozek, Lee Stecklein, Alex Carpenter, Kendall Coyne, Brianna Decker and Amanda Kessel are the other Olympians.

 

Team USA’s Defensive Core Remains Strong

The core of the Team USA defense is well rounded as six of seven on the roster have been in place for almost every event since the Sochi Games. Lamoureux-Morando shifted to defense and added an offensive element to the group, which plays at a quicker pace. The other five are Bellamy, Stecklein, Bozek, Emily Pfalzer and Megan Keller. Kali Flanagan rounds out the group.

 

It’s Rigsby’s Time To Shine

Goaltender Alex Rigsby has emerged as Team USA’s number one goalie since the Sochi Games. Rigsby was the final goaltender cut in the selection camp prior to the residency period, but she has since secured her spot as No. 1. She helped lead the Americans to a world title in 2015 and then was a standout in the 2016 world championships, where she maintained a shutout as Team USA beat Canada 1-0 in overtime to win the title. Rigsby is one of seven U.S. players to play in every event since the 2014 Winter Games. The others are Bellamy, Coyne, Decker, Lamoureux-Davidson, Lamoureux-Morando and Pfalzer.

 

Home Ice: Advantage Or Not?

This year marks just the fourth time that the Women’s World Championship will be held in the United States. If Team USA wins, it’d mark the first time the Americans have won on home ice.

The last time the United States hosted the event, Team USA fell to Canada 5-4 in overtime in the championship game in Burlington, Vermont. Canada also won the 1994 and 2001 world championships, which were in Lake Placid, New York, and Minneapolis, respectively, as well as the 2002 Olympic gold medal in Salt Lake City.

Dan Scifo is a sportswriter from the Pittsburgh area. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.