Already winners, U.S. women face Canada

- Kevin Allen USA TODAY Sports FOLLOW NHL COLUMNIST KEVIN ALLEN @ByKevinAll­en for commentary and breaking news from the ice.

When U.S. women’s national hockey team players were on the ice for practice Thursday, defender Megan Keller said she saw a fan holding a sign that read: Be Bold For Change.

“It made me smile to know that people support us,” Keller said. “Even younger people standing up with us is amazing to see.”

That was the players’ slogan when the team recently threatened to boycott the World Championsh­ip in their public and successful bid to negotiate a new contract that would pay them well enough to stay in the sport beyond their college eligibilit­y. The tactic helped them gain a four-year deal that could earn them more than $100,000 in an Olympic year and about $70,000 in non- Olympic years.

The Americans open defense of their world title Friday (7:30 p.m ET) at USA Hockey Arena with a test against archrival Canada, and their biggest challenge might be to overcome the feeling that they have already won because of their success at the bargaining table.

“It’s historic. It is absolutely historic,” U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said. “I think it shows girls and women within sport or without sport: Do more, be more, be better and put pressure on people. Stand up for yourself and what you believe in. I think that’s really important, and if we can be role models in that aspect, I’m certainly proud to do so.”

Monique Lamoureux-Morando, 27, said the deal opens the door for her to play in her third Olympics.

“Now my conversati­on with my husband changes to, ‘Is it going to be more of a burden to continue to play and work and be a mom?’ ” Lamoureux-Morando said. “I don’t have to choose now. I don’t have to choose between being a mom and being a hockey player. I can do both.”

Even the Canadians sent congratula­tory texts to the Americans after their deal was done.

“As much as the rivalry is huge when we get on the ice, and it seems like we hate each other, away from the ice we are in the same circles a lot,” U.S. star Hilary Knight said. “But tomorrow it will be U.S. vs. Canada, and we will play a game.”

Americans received support from athletes all over the world because everyone understand­s their contract is a game-changer, maybe for others as well. Knight said players from other sports and countries have sent her messages asking for guidance. She tells them that unity is crucial. The American women didn’t waver, even though they didn’t want to miss the World Championsh­ip.

“I had a couple of women on my profession­al team (from other countries) say to me, ‘We could probably do that same thing,’ ” said U.S. forward Amanda Kessel, sister of Toronto Maple Leafs standout Phil Kessel.

Knight said the American players’ hope is that their fight will impact women’s sports worldwide. “We were leaning on U.S. soccer a lot,” Knight said. “We had Julie Foudy weighing in and a bunch of the other amazing athletes. Alex Morgan. Abby Wambach. It’s good to have a sisterhood.”

In might seem like the tournament is smaller in scope to what the Americans accomplish­ed off the ice, but that’s not how the players view it. The Americans have won the tournament six of the last seven times it has been played.

“The world championsh­ips is our everything,” Duggan said. “It’s our Stanley Cup any given year in a non- Olympic year. To put that on the line initially for us was an unbelievab­le, gut-wrenching sacrifice. It was one of (the most) difficult things we’ve ever had to do. So to really stick together throughout the entire process and now find ourselves here, yesterday, ready to play in the world championsh­ips, is just — it’s the greatest feeling in world.”

The tournament runs through next Friday.

 ?? PAUL SANCYA, AP ?? Goalie Alex Rigsby practices ahead of the USA’s matchup against Canada.
PAUL SANCYA, AP Goalie Alex Rigsby practices ahead of the USA’s matchup against Canada.
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