The U.S. women's hockey team: 'This fight is your fight'
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It's been two decades since the United States won its first -- and only -- Olympic gold medal in women's ice hockey, something that's not lost on the current team. According to star forward Hilary Knight, who has silvers from the Vancouver and Sochi Games, it's "gold or bust" this time around. After a recent training session, I sat down with Knight and two other members of the Sochi Olympic team, Meghan Duggan and Kendall Coyne, to discuss what it will take to win gold this time and how last year's fight for equitable support from USA Hockey fortified this team heading into Pyeongchang.
JULIE FOUDY: I hate to do this to you, but I'm gonna do it. Let's go back to the silver medal in Sochi, the 3-2 overtime loss to Canada. Can you explain the emotion of that final game?
MEGHAN DUGGAN: It was devastation, really. There are not many words to explain it. It was really tough. It was emotional. It was heartbreaking. It felt abrupt. I think we were disappointed that it felt like we had it and gave it away. Now, looking back on that, I see how far we've come, what we've learned. You walk away from a game like that or an experience like that and you ask yourself, Why? Why did that happen? Who are we? What are we made of? What's it gonna look like next time? How do we have to be better? And we've done that. So I think now, looking back, it almost excites me -- because I think about how far we've come since then.
KENDALL COYNE: I think something that made it ... not that it got easier, but going through it for the first time, you go home and everyone is so excited to see you and they don't really care what color your medal is. They're just so happy you represented this country with class and dignity just like we all did. I felt almost selfish for sitting on that ice and crying. How is it different this time? How's the team different?
HILARY KNIGHT: It's just so different. What we've accomplished off the ice has translated well for us on ice. I think there's a different level of commitment. It's almost down to the thought that every single decision you make is, "Is it helping the team or is it hurting the team?" and each one of us as members of the team are trying to put the team first before any individual.
JF: What's the one trait -- I'm only giving you one --that you would say you love most about this team?
KC: Unity. I think on and off the ice, whenever we need to make a decision or we need to come together, we do it faster than we've ever done it before and so cohesively that you're never second-guessing the person to the left of you or the person to the right of you.
JF: You've always said that team chemistry was a big thing, but the team feels even more unified this time around.
HK: Absolutely. It's no secret we had an equitable-support battle not too long ago. And we essentially stood up and said we need things to change in order for us to represent our country at the world championships, which was on home soil. And it's scary, because here you are, you're representing your country, and it's such a huge honor. But at the same time, you know in order to fulfill that honor, there are things that you need. You need resources, some sort of funding and also increased marketing. To unanimously stand up for one another and say we're not going unless you meet these demands is a pretty powerful [statement].
JF: What was your reaction when the substitute players they were trying to bring in then refused to come in and replace you guys?
HK: That's what we were fighting for. It wasn't necessarily the people in the room. It was the sport. We just want a better future, and we have that vision. To have people support us in the way that they did was really heartfelt.
KC: I think something that was important too were the conversations that we had with college coaches and high school coaches, educating them, saying, "Look, this fight is your fight too. I know they might be calling your players, but will you help us and educate them on what we're fighting for?" That it's not about taking a world championship roster spot. This is their fight as well.
JF: You guys have been fighting USA Hockey for a long time. Why 2017? Why now?
MD: There are a lot of reasons. We had the right group, the right personnel -- our ability to communicate with each other but not just agree to agree. Our ability to challenge each other on certain things and make sure we were doing it the right way. And then the leverage we had with the world championship on home ice certainly didn't hurt. And it was 2017, you know? Enough was enough.
HK: Honestly, I think everyone said that at one point: "We didn't come this far to only get this far."
JF: Why could this group be the first in 20 years to grab that gold medal?
MD: It's the feels. It's hard to explain. It's the unity. It's the leadership.
HK: You just know. Look in everyone's eyes. It's powerful.
KC: The opportunity's too great not to take advantage of it. Not only to win a gold medal but to grow the sport in the U.S. and inspire a next wave of girls to put on hockey skates like we did when we saw [the 1998 team] with the gold medal. That opportunity is pretty cool.
JF: What's your message to little girls who will be out there watching?
HK: For me personally, it's always: Dare to be you. Dare to be better. Dare to be bold. Dare to be great. Just really push the envelope. Set goals and shatter them.