Women took a no­ble stand

National Post (National Edition) - - POST SPORTS - MICHAEL TRAIKOS Ply­mouth, Mich.

Me­gan Keller saw the signs as she skated over to the bench for a drink of wa­ter.

“She be­lieved she could so she did,” was writ­ten on one in blue marker. An­other sim­ply said, “Thank you for be­ing ‘BOLD’ in big block letters.

Keller smiled. If there had been any doubt — and there was plenty dur­ing the last sev­eral weeks with the U.S. women’s hockey team threat­en­ing to boy­cott the world hockey cham­pi­onship un­less it re­ceived in­creased wages and de­vel­op­men­tal sup­port at the grass­roots level — it was erased as the team re­turned to the ice for its first prac­tice.

The women’s hockey team had stood up for change. And in the process, oth­ers stood up with them.

“It made me smile to know that peo­ple sup­port us and even younger peo­ple were stand­ing up with us. It was amaz­ing to see,” said Keller, a de­fence­man on the U.S. team.

Hold­ing up one of the signs dur­ing was 19-yearold Carly Costello of nearby Ann Ar­bour, Mich. Two years ago, Costello said she was forced to quit com­pet­i­tive hockey be­cause there were only three un­der-19 teams in the state of Michi­gan and the travel was just not worth it.

“I was very proud to stand be­hind them be­cause I know how it is to be a female hockey player and I know that you don’t get the things that the men do,” said Costello, who was at the prac­tice with her mom and two younger broth­ers. “It’s so im­por­tant what (the U.S. women’s team) did, be­cause it wasn’t just for them­selves but for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.”

Costello’s story is why the U.S. women’s team was pre­pared to sit out of a tour­na­ment that it had won the past three years. In the end, the play­ers re­ceived what they had asked for on Tues­day in the form of a four-year agree­ment that, ac­cord­ing to re­ports, should in­crease the player’s monthly stipend from US$1,000 to $3,000 to $4,000 per month.

But it wasn’t just about get­ting more money for the play­ers on this year’s na­tional team. It was about bridging the gap to­wards equal­ity. It was about mak­ing sure younger women, like Costello, would have more op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“It’s about the fu­ture and I hope this con­tin­ues to grow the women’s game,” said Keller. “I played with boys grow­ing up and even­tu­ally switched to girls, but there’s just not as many op­tions when I was grow­ing up. I hope this con­tin­ues to cre­ate more op­por­tu­ni­ties for these younger girls.”

It was a coura­geous move. Had USA Hockey not met the women’s de­mands, there was talk that re­place­ment play­ers would be used in the tour­na­ment.

“The last few months were tough,” said U.S. for­ward Hi­lary Knight. “The last few weeks were even tougher. Just know­ing that we were on a dead­line and we wanted to play here, but we were pas­sion­ate for our cause. At the end of the day, USA Hockey stepped up and we’re ready to move for­ward to­gether in a pos­i­tive di­rec­tion.

“It’s been a long 14 or 15 months here, but we’re just ex­cited to be rep­re­sent­ing our coun­try at the world stage. I think from the en­tire process what I’ll re­mem­ber is be­ing able to stand strong as a unit, col­lec­tively as a group but also get­ting the out­pour­ing of sup­port that we re­ceived from all over the world that tran­scended our sport specif­i­cally. The fact that we gave hope to other peo­ple to im­prove eq­ui­table sup­port.”

The women’s sac­ri­fice did not go un­no­ticed. Amanda Kes­sel said she re­ceived sup­port from all over, whether “at a diner in Jersey City” or on so­cial me­dia, where they re­ceived a shout-out from ac­tress Gabrielle Union.

“I think just the aware­ness it brought to women’s hockey in gen­eral,” said Kes­sel. “Hope­fully, peo­ple are pay­ing at­ten­tion to us more and watch­ing us more and they’ll see the value and tal­ent that’s out there.”

Even the Cana­dian women’s team was root­ing for their ri­vals.

“We’re re­ally happy for them,” said Team Canada cap­tain Marie-Philip Poulin. “We’re re­ally happy that they came to an agree­ment and we’ll be play­ing them to­mor­row.”

Now comes the hard part: ac­tu­ally play­ing in the tour­na­ment.

While Team Canada has been prac­tis­ing to­gether for weeks and play­ing warm-up games, the U.S. team has had one prac­tice be­fore Fri­day’s tour­na­ment opener against Canada.

But if the team is rusty, it cer­tainly won’t lack mo­ti­va­tion. Af­ter all, they en­ter the tour­na­ment prac­ti­cally float­ing on a cloud of sup­port from women all over the world. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s a fa­mil­iar op­po­nent.

“It’s easy,” Kes­sel said of be­ing ready for the game. “It’s Canada.”

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