WESLEY CHAPEL — Forward Hilary Knight has been a member of the U.S. women’s hockey team since she was 17, which means she has won enough medals and trophies to fill a good-sized room and suffered enough heartbreaking losses in tournament finals to not take any of those titles for granted.
Her assessment of this year’s team?
"We’re playing with a different type of intensity," Knight, 28, said. "We’re playing with a different type of vision, and it’s that much more powerful than it’s ever been."
The United States has changed its style of play since the 2014 Olympics — where it lost the gold-medal game to Canada in overtime — stressing a quicker-tempo, puck-possession game.
That has been on display this week during the Four Nations Cup at Florida Hospital Center Ice, where the United States won all three of its round-robin games, including 5-0 Friday against Sweden to advance to Sunday’s championship game against Canada at Amalie Arena.
But that’s only part of the story. The play on the ice is powerful, and so is the determination off it — not only to win gold in February at the Olympics, but to be a part of the U.S. team.
All it took was threatening to boycott the world championships in May over equal pay and support from USA Hockey for the team to truly become one clinched fist.
"We lived through some real-life team-building with the boycott last spring," Knight said. "In the fabric of our team, what we’re trying to achieve, it’s something bigger than ourselves."
The women wanted "a living wage," captain Meghan Duggan said at the time.
They also sought other forms of compensation to put them on equal footing with the U.S. men’s team, such as business-class airfare for flights lasting more than three hours, nanny support and day care.
Team members had received $3,000 per month during the sixth months before the Olympics, and that’s if they were deemed a core member. Some received $700 month.
USA Hockey was not pleased by the demands. It even threatened to use replacement players in the world championships in Michigan, some in high school. But the women remained united. It helped that the NHL and NFL players unions supported their cause.
Eventually, a deal was reached. Compensation was set at $70,000 per player, with bonuses for gold ($20,000) and silver ($15,000) medals.
"Kudos to them," Canadian forward Natalie Spooner said.
Now, U.S. forward Amanda Kessel said, the Americans are more united.
"A hundred percent. You never really get tested to how strong your team is. That showed it," she said. "It’s a tough thing to go through, and the way we were able to stick together, it wouldn’t have happened if we had a few people straying."
On Monday, the day before the Four Nations Cup began, Duggan talked about the change in culture among the team. The new style of play has been an easy buy-in because everyone on the team knows what they are playing for, and that is for each other as much as their country.
It was like that in the past, but perhaps not at the level it is heading into the Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
"(The boycott) just amplified everything," defenseman Emily Pfalzer said. "I think we stayed united through everything. It really brought our team together. Nobody cares who scores, who’s on the score sheet. We just want to win the game."
Coyne paces USA
Kendall Coyne scored twice in the United States’ 5-0 victory against Sweden. Kacey Bellamy, Hannah Brandt and Gigi Marvin also scored. Goalie Nicole Hensley stopped all nine shots she faced during her first start of the tournament.
CANADA BLANKS FINLAND: Canada got goals from four players in a 4-0 win against Finland in the final game of round-robin play: Brianne Jenner, Marie-Philip Poulin, Jennifer Wakefield and Sarah Nurse.
Goalie Genevieve Lacasse recorded her second shutout of the tournament for Canada (2-1). She stopped eight shots against Finland (1-2) after stopping nine in a 9-0 win Tuesday against Sweden.
Finland plays Sweden (0-3) for third place at noon Sunday at Amalie Arena.