PLYMOUTH, Mich. -- When the U.S. women's national hockey team ended its two-week boycott of the IIHF World Championships after reaching a landmark contract agreement with USA Hockey last week, outsiders didn't know what to expect. But the players did. They weren't worried they had only 48 hours to prepare to play a gauntlet of five games in eight days, starting with archrival Canada. As U.S. forward Hilary Knight promised, "We'll be ready. We have a lot of emotion to get out."
Then the Americans roared out and shut out Canada. The Americans' terrific goaltending and fast-break offense has been breathtaking to watch. Team veterans say the team is playing better than it ever has before. But how can that be?
"Because everything that happened brought us even closer than we've ever been before," captain Meghan Duggan says.
We spent some time with the team on the road in Plymouth before Thursday's semifinals.
With only a day to practice before its worlds opener against Canada, the U.S. women's team went through a series of warm-up drills.
U.S. forward Alex Carpenter focuses on the bus ride over to USA Hockey Arena before the team's worlds opener against Canada. She has won an Olympic silver medal, has played in four Frozen Fours with Boston College and was the 2015 Patty Kazmaier Award winner.
The message on Kendall Coyne's practice jersey continued the message that the U.S. team sent over the past 15 months of talks leading into its historic deal with USA Hockey: Treat us equally. With the new deal, the team's annual compensation will improve to roughly $70,000 per player. Toss in the newly negotiated performance bonuses the federation agreed to pay the women for the first time and the players could push their income over six figures if they win the Olympics or World Championships.
Brent Proulx, the equipment manager for the U.S. women's team, prepares the players' jerseys ahead of their opening game at the USA Hockey Arena.
Finally, the players get their chance to hit the ice together for the first time since agreeing to their new deal.
One of the items of the new deal: The women's team will now receive the same level of travel arrangements and insurance coverage as the men's national team. Their per diem was also bumped up from $15 a day for nontravel days at events to $50, the same as the men's.
Goaltender Nicole Hensley runs through her pregame stretches before she made 18 saves in Team USA's 2-0 victory against Canada.
Kelli Stack tapes up her stick before the Canada showdown. One of the veterans in the lineup, the forward should make her third straight Olympic team.
The team's equity battle went beyond sports, making headlines on news and talk shows. Other star athletes weighed in, as well as politicians. But so did hockey families -- parents of girls who play and those young players themselves. #BeBoldForChange was also a trending hashtag in social media circles as negotiations reached a tipping point.
There will always be many scrums in front of the net during a U.S.-Canada battle, and last week's worlds opener was no different. Look closely and you'll notice a U.S. player near the bottom of the pile.
The Americans were undefeated in three games leading into Thursday's semifinals, posting wins against Canada, Russia and Finland.
Stack receives a little help from her 9-month-old nephew, Bryson, during an autograph-signing session at USA Hockey Arena.
U.S. women's coach Robb Stauber (not pictured) asks the team members to close their eyes and focus during a pregame talk before their game against Finland (a 5-3 victory for the Americans).
The U.S. women are vying for their fourth straight worlds title and seventh in the past eight years.