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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MORE: Stanley Cup-winning goalie joins U.S. women’s coaching staff

Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch
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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”