They're Americans, yes. But they are more than that.
They're one of us. Adopted Floridians. Honorary members of Tampa Bay.
And they gave us the signature moment of the Winter Olympics.
USA! USA! USA!
In the greatest moment in American hockey since the Miracle on Ice, the United States women's hockey team beat archrival Canada in a game that was inspirational, thrilling and downright fun.
To quote a hockey announcer named Mike Lange, shame on you for six weeks if you missed this game.
Then again, you probably did. It happened in the middle of the night, when most people were asleep.
But if you stayed up overnight Wednesday, it was totally worth looking like a walker from The Walking Dead all day Thursday.
The game itself was brilliant. But the backstory of the American women made it even more special.
The gold-medal victory was possible only because of their greatest victory ever nearly a year ago.
In March 2017, the U.S. women walked off the job, tired of being mistreated.
The best women's hockey team in the world was full of players who had to work a job, or in some cases two, just to make ends meet. They weren't looking to get rich. They just wanted their share of the pie. They wanted $68,000 in salary and some of the basics, such as child care and maternity leave, and being able to fly business class to games. They just wanted to be treated like the men's teams, which haven't been nearly as successful in the Olympics as the women's teams.
The women were about to sit out the World Championships, being held in the United States, and had convinced college and high school stars to not replace them.
Good for them. It was the right thing to do.
Eventually, an agreement with USA Hockey was reached. Details were never divulged, but the women won. And they returned with a vengeance.
U.S. captain Meghan Duggan is uncomfortable calling herself the face of women's hockey in America, though she is. She sees herself more as an ambassador: https://t.co/QKpkjImtx8 @RogerMooney50 #USWNT #TeamUSA #WinterOlympics #Peyonchang2018— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) February 3, 2018
They trained for the Olympics right here in Wesley Chapel. Every day, the players said, they thought about getting revenge on Canada. The Americans lost the gold-medal game in 2014, blowing a 2-0 lead with four minutes left and losing in overtime.
For four years, we waited for the rematch.
USA vs. Canada for women's hockey supremacy.
It's a rivalry as good as any in sports.
The Americans took a 1-0 lead Wednesday. But they looked tight; they seemed nervous. Canada tied the score. Then Canada took a 2-1 lead heading to the third period. It felt like Canada's night.
The United States pressed and pressed, but it couldn't score. It looked like Canada was going to break the Americans' heart again. Four years down the drain. Four years' work, all for a silver medal they didn't want.
Then magic: The United States' Monique Lamoureux-Morando scored on a breakaway with 6:21 left in the third. Tie game.
The night grew longer, and fingernails were chewed shorter. There was plenty of sweat and even a little blood.
Those who were up back here in the United States could barely sit still. Steph Curry was tweeting about the game. So was 1980 Olympic goalie Jim Craig. So was actor Wanda Sykes. And NHL star Phil Kessel, whose sister, Amanda, plays for the women's team.
Next up: overtime. The Americans had to kill off a penalty late in OT.
They forced a shootout.
Shootouts are awful. They're a terrible way to decide something as important as an Olympic championship. Not only should these teams have played overtime all night until there was a winner, this game should have been the first of a best-of-seven series.
But if we're going to do shootouts, this is how you do them. This one was as intense as it was skilled. It was as dramatic as it was mesmerizing.
It was a shootout for the ages.
It featured two of the prettiest goals you will ever see at any level of hockey.
First, Canada's Melodie Daoust scored on a move where she skated left and tucked a one-handed shot into an open net. Then, in what could make a case for the biggest and best shootout goal ever, Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, the twin sister of Monique, scored a dazzling, triple-deke goal that practically broke the ankles, spine and arms of Canadian goalie Shannon Szabados.
Moments later, when 20-year-old goalie Maddie Rooney made one last save, the United States won its first gold medal in hockey since the inaugural women's tournament in 1998. The game ended at 2:12 a.m. Eastern time.
Do you believe in miracles?
Well, this was no miracle.
The better team won. The team that deserved to win won.
Team USA. Team Florida. Team Wesley Chapel.
Contact Tom Jones at [email protected] Follow @tomwjones
"They don't have many girl's teams, but it's not for lack of effort," Team USA captain Meghan Duggan said. "They're trying to grow the sport. People say, 'why Florida?' I say, 'Why not?'" @usahockey @TB_Times @RogerMooney50 #Olympics #PyeongChang #TampaBay https://t.co/JEjWNPXB3F— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) February 14, 2018