In February, Monique Lamoureux-Morando laced up her skates for a basic training session at her home rink in North Dakota. And she was nervous.
Exactly a year earlier, Lamoureux-Morando had scored a game-tying goal late in the third period of the 2018 Olympic final for Team USA, sending the gold-medal game against Canada into overtime. (Her twin sister, Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, would score the game winner in the shootout).
But Lamoureux-Morando hadn't skated since. One month after the Olympics, she got pregnant and gave birth to a son, Mickey, in December. Now eight weeks later, she was ready to get back on the ice.
"It was a modified workout; just moving my hands, shooting a couple pucks, getting some edge work in," Lamoureux-Morando said. "But I had no idea how my body was going to react. I was so nervous I would be terrible."
She called her sister on the way home.
"Actually," she said. "I wasn't as bad as I thought I would be."
At 30 years old, the twins are two of the biggest stars for USA Hockey at a critical juncture for the sport. They are among the roughly 200 players boycotting professional hockey this year in support of a more sustainable league that pays players living wages.
Lamoureux-Morando and Lamoureux-Davidson emerged as leaders for the players in the 2017 contract dispute with USA Hockey. One of the things they fought for at the time was maternity benefits, which had never previously been given to female hockey players in the U.S.
"Our lawyers, specifically John Langel from Ballard Spahr who repped the women's soccer team for 15 years, said, 'Eventually you're going to have moms on the team, and you're going to need to protect them,'" Lamoureux-Davidson said. "We were the only ones married on the team at that time, and we both knew after Pyeongchang we wanted to start families. We wanted to continue to play, but we needed something to be in place so we could."
Lamoureux-Morando became the first player to use the new maternity benefits. Lamoureux-Davidson, who gave birth to a son, Nelson, in January, was the second. The players got their full stipend payments from USA Hockey through their pregnancy. They were guaranteed to be invited to two camps postpartum, which meant even if they didn't feel as great as they wanted to in their first camp back, they would get another chance. In this case, the first camp was in August, eight months after Lamoureux-Morando gave birth and seven months for Lamoureux-Davidson. After giving birth, they received monthly child care stipends to spend however they wish. The sisters used theirs on a nanny so their sons could come with them for the 10-day camp in Lake Placid.
"It's all so we could come back in a safe timeline," Lamoureux-Davidson said. "We realize how fortunate we are. So many women go through hardships because they don't have that support from their employer."
The sisters will be back at their second camp starting Monday in Pittsburgh. They hope they'll be named to the world championship roster in March. Their ultimate goal is to play in the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.
"It's a whole new motivation for us to get back to the national team," Lamoureux-Morando said. "Being a mom is the best thing ever, but going through the journey can sometimes be difficult. It can be lonely at times. Being able to go through it with Jocelyne has made it so much easier."
The twins grew up in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and were accustomed to doing everything together. In high school, they even shared a cell phone. As they rose up the ranks in hockey, they became accustomed to self-motivation -- especially because they lived in North Dakota, where there are no other national team players. Lamoureux-Morando's husband, Anthony, trains them in the gym.
On the ice, it's a bit more difficult. The twins played at the University of North Dakota. After graduating in 2013, Lamoureux-Morando was a volunteer assistant coach, while Lamoureux-Davidson worked as the strength and conditioning coach. The twins would get ice time skating with the goalies.
A day after the national team players signed their new contract with USA Hockey in 2017, the University of North Dakota cut the women's hockey program due to university-wide budget cuts. The twins were devastated. It felt like they were taking a huge step forward for the sport, but this was another step back.
Jody Hodgson, the GM of Ralph Engelstad Arena where they played, vowed to accommodate the twins and helped them secure ice time.
"It's literally been the two of us," Lamoureux-Davidson said. "Some people say that must be a disadvantage. We really try to turn it into something positive and use that ice time to focus on the things we need to work on as individuals."
They do have to be creative in creating their own drills because they don't regularly work with goalies anymore. They are constantly dragging tires on the ice and using bumper pads.
"As a lot of elite athletes know, the stuff that's not on camera, the stuff that people don't see it's very unglamorous," Lamoureux-Davidson said. "It's monotonous. It's a grind a lot of the time."
Adds Lamoureux-Morando: "People see only one percent of what you do, when it's on TV on a national stage, and it looks glamorous. But what it takes to get to that level is not. With women's hockey right now, as a whole, unfortunately that's what the best players in the world are having to do day in and day out. That's why we want to fight the bigger fight, to give ourselves a chance to play in a legitimate professional league. With what's available right now, as moms, it would actually be a financial burden for us to play. We know we are near the end of our careers, but maybe we can set it up for the next generation."
With the professional landscape in flux, the twins said they felt a lot of pressure to capitalize on the interest in women's hockey post-gold medal.
"After the Olympics, you're trying to cram as much as you can in a short period of time because you know that in six months, those opportunities aren't coming your way," Lamoureux-Morando said. "So many female athletes have to hustle to make money while they still can because it's such a short window. A lot pf people don't realize the things we have to do to make money while we can on top of trying to train and continue to stay in elite level shape."
Lamoureux-Davidson said after Pyeongchang, she wasn't home for a full week in over eight months, extending well into her pregnancy.
"We were traveling until we couldn't travel anymore," she said.
The twins are ambassadors for Comcast's digital literacy program. They travel to under-resourced schools cities across the country to promote the program, which provides low-income Americans digital-literacy tools and access to the internet. In July, the twins launched their own foundation as well. When Nelson turned 3 months old, Lamoureux-Davidson was on the road again.
The twins' pregnancies were very different. Lamoureux-Morando was sick every day, throwing up often. Lamoureux-Davidson for the most part felt well. She did deal with bad heartburn during her third trimester.
Because Lamoureux-Morando was six weeks ahead, her sister knew what to expect. It was especially helpful when the babies were born, and Lamoureux-Davidson had a head start on how to change diapers.
The sisters had their babies in winter -- one of the worst winters in North Dakota history. There were freezing temperatures and there was a ton of snow. They were cooped up inside until the babies were 3 and 4 months old, respectively, because of how cold it was. Even if the sisters weren't seeing each other physically; they were FaceTiming often.
"It made a difficult transition a lot easier being able to go through it with someone else," Lamoureux-Davidson said.
They soon developed a new routine in training. Their houses are a mile away from each other, and the boys go to the same day care.
"We try to carpool," Lamoureux-Davidson said. "Usually I'll stand at the end of the driveway waiting for Monique to come pick me up."
They had a specific training plan going into their pregnancies. Afterward, they had to adjust to new realities with their bodies. Lamoureux-Davidson said every time she delivers a hard pass, she pees a little. It's uncomfortable, but it's the truth.
"It's like you're coming back from major surgery," Lamoureux-Morando said. "The biggest thing is just the way your hips feel when you're skating, and your groins. Explosive sprinting is probably the biggest thing we've had to be patient with. ... As an elite athlete, we train and prepare and expect to pick up where we left off. All things considered, we had babies and hadn't played a game in a year. Considering all those factors, we just need to be patient and give it ourselves enough time to be where we want to be."
Lamoureux-Morando is entering camp as a defenseman -- a position she played for three years entering the 2018 Olympics. In Pyeongchang, she made a last-minute switch to forward. This was OK with Lamoureux-Morando because she played on a line with her sister and knew they would have chemistry.
"I'm trying to figure out where I fit in on the team now, and the best position for me to make the team right now is probably defense," Lamoureux-Morando said. "That's where I'm at now, we'll see what happens."
The women's hockey team's contract with USA Hockey is up in 2021, and the twins expect to be vocal in negotiations again.
"During the last contract, there was a lot of butting heads and disagreeing," Lamoureux-Davidson said. "Over the past year, I feel like conversations are becoming more collaborative."
Adds Lamoureux-Morando: "What we're trying to create is a cultural shift in how U.S. hockey is supported from the ground up. That doesn't happen overnight. That doesn't happen just because you sign a contract. We've seen great positive strides with where the program is going, but hopefully this is just the beginning."