How Team USA's gold from PyeongChang is inspiring the next generation of women's hockey athletes

How Team USA's gold from PyeongChang is inspiring the next generation of women's hockey athletes
Posted at 3:37 PM, Oct 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-20 14:13:23-05

Canada's Meghan Agosta came roaring down the ice with the game on her stick in the women's gold medal game in PyeongChang. She took a wide turn toward the Team USA net to open up American goalie Maddie Rooney's far side, just as she had done earlier in the contest to score Canada's first goal of the shootout.

This time, though, Agosta was denied.

Rooney made the game-winning save to earn the U.S. women their first Olympic hockey gold medal in 20 years.

SEE MORE: PyeongChang 2018: U.S. women top Canada for gold in shootout

Nearly four years after winning the gold in PyeongChang, the fruits of that 2018 team's labor are still growing. Per USA Hockey, young girls across America are turning to hockey as their pastime of choice more than ever as participation in girl's and women's hockey has grown by 34 percent over the last decade.

And that title from PyeongChang has most definitely played a role in the recent growth.

"This group is so passionate and fueled to inspire the next generation to fill our skates one day. I think that gold medal in 2018 definitely had an impact," said two-time Olympic medalist Kendall Coyne Schofield.

"For a lot of us a little bit older players on the team, I think our dream started by seeing the '98 team win a gold medal, and knowing the impact that had on us, to think and feel that we may have had that same impact on the next generation here in the United States after that win in 2018 is tremendous, and it's definitely motivation fuel as we continue this journey."

That gold medal-winning squad from 1998 was led by hockey legend Cammi Granato, who alongside Angela James in 2010 became the first women ever inducted inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Granato now serves as a pro scout — the first female pro scout in NHL history — for the Seattle Kraken.

"It's heartfelt to understand and realize that you're a small piece of inspiring the next generation, inspiring someone to lace up the skates and go out there," said three-time Olympian and eight-time world champion Hilary Knight. "I think if you're around this program and you live and breathe this program, you understand, yes, it is about competing and showing up and having fun with one another, but also being a part of something bigger than ourselves and doing it for a larger group that if she can see it, she can be it.

"The younger girls that are looking up to us, the younger boys that we're sparking some small dream to lace up the skates or to be their best on a daily basis, it's a true honor and also a wonderful responsibility that we don't take lightly."

The U.S. women's aim to grow the sport isn't going unnoticed either. Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson became a household name after PyeongChang thanks to her shootout heroics in the gold medal game. Her "Oops, I Did It Again" deke set the hockey world ablaze, and Washington Capitals forward T.J. Oshie, who himself was a shootout hero in Sochi, cheekily offered his congratulations to Lamoureux-Davidson and the group.

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But the 2018 gold medal victory is having an even bigger impact on Oshie's life than even he may have expected. A father of two girls, Oshie knows first-hand the importance of the 2018 team's gold medal victory.

"It feels like to me that women's hockey and girl's hockey is constantly growing. I know for me, having two daughters myself, for them to see those women go out there and perform like that and win a gold medal is so influential on their growth and their vision as themselves becoming athletes in the future," he said.

"Just so happy for the women that were able to get the gold medal [in PyeongChang] and I just think it's huge. Women's hockey's growing, and they're a big part of that."

Oshie certainly isn't the only NHLer who understands the weight that gold medal victory has carried. Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman and two-time Stanley Cup winner Ryan McDonagh is a father as well, and he knows the growth of women's hockey could have a huge impact on his daughter's life too.

"I have a daughter myself. She's learning how to skate, and now she can watch girls like her playing at the best level representing their country, so that's where dreams start as a kid," said McDonagh. "The women's program is so good and has come so far. It makes you proud and excited for the future."

But how has the women's program remained the consistent powerhouse it is today?

It all starts with development.

Many of Team USA's top players are conditioned early on to set them up for immediate success when it comes time for the world championships or, in this case, the Olympics. The program has been consistently strong for years, and once again, the newcomers are expected to play a significant role as Team USA looks to defend its gold.

"I've been around for a few years and to have this young spark come in and just take over the platform and the scene and really rise to any occasion, whatever comes their way, they're ready to overcome any obstacle, it's really refreshing," said Knight.

"It's wonderful to see the level of skill and talent that the program is developing. So when they get to the senior team, [they're already capable of] lights-out performances. There's a lot of promising young stars that — we don't even consider them young in terms of talent, but I'm really excited with the way our teams mesh so far in this process."

One of those promising young stars is 24-year-old Abby Roque, who is set to make her Olympic debut in Beijing. The Wisconsin product wrapped up a highly productive collegiate career in 2020, posting 56 goals and 170 points in 155 total games as a Badger. She helped the University of Wisconsin win a national championship in 2019 and in 2020 was named WCHA Player of the Year and a first-team All-American.

Abby Roque of United States in action against Canada.
Abby Roque #11 of United States in action against Canada in the 2021 IIHF Women's World Championship Group A match played at WinSport Arena on August 26, 2021 in Calgary, Canada.
Derek Leung/Getty Images

Still, Roque has to pinch herself from time to time knowing that she shares a locker room with some of the top women's hockey players on the planet.

"I think sometimes you kind of forget that, as a teenager I suppose, I was watching a lot of these players on the team play and I was in awe of how great they were and they were people I looked up to," she said. "And then now we're just in the locker room hanging out and it's completely normal and then somebody will bring up something they did, or we're at Worlds and [Knight] and [Brianna Decker] are breaking all these records and I forget sometimes how good these players are when I'm with them all the time.

"It's something that you notice definitely how they carry themselves and how they work around the rink and just how they treat their teammates, how long they've been around the sport and how well they've done in the sport, but it's also, you just go to the rink and they're your friends as well."

This tight-knit U.S. team still has a job to do in Beijing. The goal is to win another title and continue their reign as Olympic champions. But the work they're doing to grow the sport is bigger than what any medal can possibly symbolize.