DETROIT – Sunday is the 21st anniversary of the U.S. women's ice hockey team winning the inaugural Olympic gold medal.
I remember it so fondly because I was a freshman in high school at Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh, and I was on the first-ever women’s hockey team there. We were just learning the ins and outs of the sport; it was so cool to turn on the TV and see women competing at such a high level. Everyone on my SSA Indians hockey team was so into it. We all followed Team USA so closely and I’m pretty sure someone bought a Cammi Granato jersey post-Olympics.
The experience didn’t exactly inspire me to one day get there. I was pretty realistic in my abilities, and I knew that figure skating was something I had done most of my life and that would be the sport I would continue in college. But, watching those Olympians in Nagano, Japan, seeing the excitement nationwide, it was pretty clear it was the start of something special.
Twenty years later, the U.S. women did it again. They beat Canada to win Olympic gold in PyeongChang, South Korea. After they got home, they were superheroes. Players like Hillary Knight and Amanda Kessel are household names. The U.S. team was seen all over the country on TV, at special events and at many youth camps at local rinks. Then, a few weeks ago, Kendal Coyne Schofield showed the men just how fast she really is when she became the first women to compete in the NHL Skills Competition during All-Star Weekend.
Fast forward to this week, when thousands of fans watched Team USA and Team Canada battle in the inaugural Rivalry Series. On Sunday at Little Ceasars Arena in Detroit, 9,048 people watched the final game. The atmosphere inside was electric, even if the Americans fell to the Canadians 2-0.
Just like in 1998, this current group has the power to inspire many and grow the sport, especially in the age of social media. The players I’ve talked to over the past few weeks know they have a ton of eyes on them, and they take that very seriously. This former player is watching, too, and looking forward to the next four years and the Olympics.