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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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Erin Hamlin to run New York City Marathon

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Erin Hamlin, the first U.S. Olympic singles luge medalist and Team USA flag bearer at the PyeongChang Olympic Opening Ceremony, will run the New York City Marathon on Nov. 4.

Hamlin, a 2014 Olympic bronze medalist who retired after her fourth Olympics in PyeongChang at age 31, is running to fundraise for the Women’s Sports Foundation. So is Marlen Esparza, who in 2012 became the first U.S. Olympic women’s boxing medalist (flyweight bronze).

Hamlin has no marathon experience, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation.

“Being challenged in sport is something I am very familiar with,” Hamlin said in a mass email Wednesday, according to TeamUSA.org. “Long distance running is something I most certainly am not!! It will be difficult, mentally and physically daunting, but a way to test my abilities in a sport so far out of my comfort zone.”

Many Olympians in non-running sports have raced the New York City Marathon.

Bill Demong, the 2010 U.S. Olympic Closing Ceremony flag bearer and only U.S. Olympic Nordic combined champion, ran the 2014 NYC Marathon in 2:33:05, crushing eight-time Olympic medalist Apolo Ohno‘s 3:25:14 from 2011.

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Softball set to return to Olympics as first event on Tokyo 2020 schedule

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Softball, returning to the Olympics after a 12-year absence, is scheduled to kick off the 2020 Tokyo Games, two days before the Opening Ceremony.

The preliminary master schedule for the Tokyo Olympics was published Wednesday, with the first softball game scheduled for 10 a.m. local time on the Wednesday before the Opening Ceremony.

The first game is scheduled to be held in Fukushima, the site of 2011 nuclear plant meltdowns caused by an earthquake and tsunami 155 miles north of Tokyo. The International Olympic Committee and Tokyo organizers have been eager to use the Games as a symbol of recovery from the 2011 disaster

Traditionally, soccer has been the first sport to have action at a Summer Olympics, one or two days before the Opening Ceremony. While soccer is again scheduled to have matches that same Wednesday, they start later than 10 a.m.

The Tokyo 2020 schedule is subject to change and certainly not a final version — swimming, diving and synchronized swimming schedules are still to be determined, but those sports do not typically start before the Opening Ceremony.

Softball was added in 1991 to the Olympic program to debut at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won the first three gold medals before softball and baseball were narrowly voted off the Olympic program in 2005/06 (a 52-52 IOC vote for softball, with a majority needed to stay in the Olympics), with the 2008 Beijing Games being the last edition. Japan won the last Olympic softball gold medal 10 years ago.

Then on Aug. 3, 2016, baseball and softball were among five sports added for the 2020 Tokyo Games only, at the request of Tokyo Olympic organizers. Baseball and softball are not guaranteed to remain on the Olympic program in Paris in 2024.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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