The scene at USA Hockey Arena on Friday in Plymouth, Mich., was one of pure bliss, at least for the U.S. women’s team and its fans. Hilary Knight’s overtime goal gave the Americans a 3-2 victory over archrival Canada in the final of the world championships.
That joyous mood stood in stark contrast to the emotions of the Team USA players just two weeks ago, when they were vowing to boycott the tournament to protest what they saw as unfair treatment by USA Hockey. Knight was among the most prominent voices castigating the governing body for offering the decorated team insultingly low wages.
“It’s a huge sacrifice that we’re putting the world championship on the line, and I think that speaks volumes,” Knight said in March. “Equitable is the key word. For us, it’s not an unreasonable ask.”
“This is 2017, and this just isn’t right,” the 27-year-old forward told Sports on Earth at that time. “These shouldn’t be issues. They shouldn’t be daily concerns we have. We need more support and it’s unacceptable that we aren’t getting more support.”
“We are asking for a living wage and for USA Hockey to fully support its programs for women and girls and stop treating us like an afterthought,” team captain Meghan Duggan said in a statement. “We have represented our country with dignity and deserve to be treated with fairness and respect.”
Eventually, after USA Hockey began looking into the possibility of using replacement players, and after 20 Democratic Senators publicly called on the organization to “resolve this dispute quickly to ensure that the USA Women’s National Hockey Team receives equitable resources,” an 11th-hour agreement was reached. “We stood up for what we thought was right and USA Hockey’s leadership listened,” Duggan said.
That deal was struck just three days before the world championships began at the arena just outside of Detroit, giving the team just one day to hold practice before competing. However, Team USA wasted no time rediscovering the form that had led to triumphs in the three previous installments of the tournament, and seven of the past nine.
The Americans led off with a 2-0 victory over Canada, which had won the 2014 Olympics and every non-U. S. world championships. Knight and Co. went undefeated, and mostly untested (particularly in an 11-0 rout of Germany in the semifinals), until being pushed to overtime Friday.
Kacey Bellamy, a 29-year-old defenseman, scored the U.S.’s two goals in regulation, which were sandwiched between Canadian tallies by Meghan Agosta and Brianne Jenner. One of Bellamy’s goals was set up by a no-look, between-the legs pass from Knight, who the defenseman called “one of the best in the world.”
It took over 10 very tense minutes of the extra session, during which the U.S. failed to take advantage of a power play, before Knight ripped a shot past Canada goalie Shannon Szabados, who had made 37 saves. With the completion of their fourth straight world championship conquest, and arguably the sweetest of them all, the American players happily piled over each other and screamed in delight.
“Nothing compares to a gold-medal game against Canada,” Bellamy said. “The emotions are so high. The energy in the building was incredible, and it was a really fast-paced game and we had to fight to the end.”
“I’m so proud of this team for performing the way we did after battling the way we did off the ice,” said Duggan. “A lot of history was made.”