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article image'Stuff gets real' — US hockey unity forged in hurricane

By Jim SLATER (AFP)     Feb 17, 2018 in Sports

They have hunkered down through a hurricane, fought their own governing body for better support and endured a heartbreaking loss to Canada in the 2014 Olympic final.

Now the world-champion US women's ice hockey players are unified and confident of ending Canada's 16-year hold on the Olympic title at the Pyeongchang Winter Games.

"The scariest thing is we're even better than we were before," US forward Hilary Knight said. "What we've been through off the ice, I would hate to have to be the team to suit up against us."

The agony at the core of their effort is a 3-2 over-time loss to Canada in the Sochi 2014 final after a rink-length attempt at an empty-net goal clanked off a post. Canada equalised in the final minute and won in extra time.

"Just to bring it up puts a little fire in all of us," said US defender Monique Lamoureux-Morando. "I don't think we would be where we are without that heart-wrenching loss."

Another USA-Canada final is expected on Wednesday, as they have met in all but one of the world championship or Olympic finals.

The Americans, who lost 2-1 to Canada in a physical group-stage contest Thursday, will next face Finland in Monday's semi-finals while the Canadians meet Olympic Athletes from Russia, whom they beat 5-0 earlier. The US dispatched Finland 3-1 in group play.

- 'Inches from gold' -

US captain Meghan Duggan says the impact of settling for silver in 2014 has had a lasting impact on US players, who have beaten Canada in all three world women's championship finals contested since then.

"It's difficult to stand there and think you were inches away from gold. No one trains as hard as we do for second place," Duggan said. "It has shaped us as athletes and as people. To lose in heartbreaking fashion like that is never easy.

"It comes out in us emotionally. A lot of it is centered around what we did in Sochi. It's a 'whatever it takes' mentality. If you fall seven times, you rise eight."

That spirit was shown last year when US players threatened to boycott the world championships on home ice without better financial support from USA Hockey, which reached a deal with the players in time for them to suit up and capture the crown.

"What we went through was something that was very important to us or we wouldn't have made the gut-wrenching decision to put a world championship at risk," Duggan said.

"It was an emotional moment. It was about leadership, communication and unity. It was about us sticking together, reassuring each other about things, talking about lawyers and all that.

"The deep value at the core of it is the same. The world needs women who are going to be strong and speak out for what they believe in."

In Florida, players were evacuated and sheltered as a hurricane struck. While the worst of the storm missed them, a day of uncertainty helped form a bond.

"Adversity is a true test of character. Stuff gets real. Things get hard. You figure out about what challenge is," Duggan said.

"I never let myself think it was going to be catastrophic. A few players were scared. We helped each other through it. I look at it as a team-building experience."

More about oly, 2018, ihockey, Women, USA
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