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U.S. blanks Canada to open world women’s hockey championship

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– The United States women’s hockey team, fueled and fired up by an opportunity to play in a tournament it was willing to sit out, started fast and strong against its rival in a highly charged and physical game.

Brianna Decker broke a scoreless tie late in the second period and Nicole Hensley stopped 18 shots, lifting the Americans over the Canadians 2-0 on Friday night in the world championship opener for both teams.

“Built-up energy,” said Megan Keller, who played defense for the U.S. near her hometown in suburban Detroit. “We were all excited to get out here and get the first game rolling.

“It definitely puts into perspective how important these tournaments are and how much they mean to you and your teammates.”

Keller and her teammates threatened to pull out of the tournament unless USA Hockey committed to paying the women more and treating them more like their male counterparts.

After getting about $1,000 a month from the organization for six month around the Olympics in the past, members of the U.S. team can now make a living playing the sport. They will make $3,000-$4,000 a month, with the ability to earn over $70,000 annually with contributions from the United States Olympic Committee. Players can make up to $129,000 with the Olympics in 2018, and USA Hockey will also arrange for players to fly in business class and stay at nicer hotels as part of the deal finalized Tuesday.

“All of the commitment, the energy and the focus you saw off the ice over the few weeks is what you’re going to see on the ice,” Reagan Carey, general manager of the U.S. team, predicted before the puck dropped. “We’re so excited to showcase that for everybody, especially the fans here.”

Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey, could enjoy the show because the landmark deal paved the way for a highly entertaining game in front of 3,152 fans.

“It’s a terrific night,” Ogrean said after the second period. “We’ve got a wonderful crowd here, USA Hockey arena, and the game everyone came to see, the two best teams in the world, are playing at a very high level in an ultra-competitive game. And obviously, you could tell our players had a lot of bottled-up energy that they were ready to play with, especially in the first period.”

The Americans controlled the play all night against their rivals. Gigi Marvin gave them a two-goal cushion early in the third, and their swarming defense shut out a high-powered offense.

“It was a wake-up call,” Canadian forward Marie-Philip Poulin said. “We have to be ready when they drop the puck.”

Shannon Szabados made some spectacular saves to keep the Canadians in the game and finished with 28 saves, but they couldn’t get a puck past Hensley.

The two teams are heavy favorites to meet again April 7 in the gold-medal game. If that doesn’t happen, it would be stunning and unprecedented.

Since the first International Ice Hockey Federation women’s world championship in 1990, the U.S. and Canada have not allowed another country to advance to the finals. The Americans beat the Canadians last year at the world championship, winning the eight-nation tournament for the third straight time over Canada and sixth time in seven opportunities.

They will, though, have to go through the motions in the eight-nation tournament.

The U.S. will face Russia and Canada will look to bounce back against Finland on Saturday as they continue the three-game opening round.

Canadian players had voiced support for the Americans in their battle for better wages and conditions in an at-times contentious off-ice battle, and acknowledged their rivals had a lot on their side.

“They had the home crowd and it was a big thing for female sports and they got it,” Poulin said. “I think it was a big, emotional game for them.”

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Green Bay Packers pull another Olympic sport TD celebration

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We’re halfway to a decathlon of Olympic sport touchdown celebrations over the last two seasons.

After the hurdles, the long jump, the bobsled and the relay came the race walk on Sunday.

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams, once part of a three-man bobsled team, led three other teammates in a race walk after scoring in Sunday’s loss to the Carolina Panthers. (Adams later left the game with a concussion.)

Adams won the race walk, which was much, much shorter than the standard Olympic distances of 20km and 50km, over teammates Jordy NelsonRandall Cobb and Geronimo Allison.

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Canada in control of hockey rivalry going into Olympics

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Four years ago, the U.S. women’s hockey team rode a four-game winning streak over rival Canada into the Olympics, then lost both games in Sochi, including a gut-wrenching overtime final.

This time, Canada goes into the Winter Games having won four straight.

The Canadians beat the Americans 2-1 in overtime in Edmonton on Sunday night, taking their pre-Olympic series 5-3 overall.

“I don’t think it was our best performance,” Canada coach Laura Schuler said. “There’s still more work to do.”

The Canadians were led by their stalwarts — captain Marie-Philip Poulin scored in regulation, Sochi gold medalist Jennifer Wakefield scored 26 seconds into overtime and longtime goalie Shannon Szabados stopped 34 of 35 shots.

Hilary Knight netted the U.S. goal, with Maddie Rooney making 24 saves.

“The goal for us is to be hitting on all cylinders in February,” U.S. coach Robb Stauber said.

The U.S. appeared to be in that kind of form until about two weeks ago.

Before this losing streak, the U.S. had a 12-4 record against Canada since the start of 2015, including taking the last three world championship finals.

At one point, the U.S. won six straight games over a 12-month stretch, its longest streak over Canada since it famously won eight straight going into the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics then lost the gold-medal game.

Canada also beat the U.S. in their last four meetings before the 2006 Olympics and five straight going into the 2010 Olympics.

The U.S. Olympic team will be announced Jan. 1. The national-team roster is at 25 players (22 skaters, three goalies), but the Olympic roster is 23 (20 skaters, three goalies).

“Can’t live in the past, can’t live in the future, so tonight we were worried about this game,” U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said, according to the Canadian Press. “We weren’t looking ahead to February.”

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