PLYMOUTH, Mich. — In the nearly 30-year history of the U.S. women's ice hockey team, one moment stands out as the high point: winning the gold medal in the 1998 Olympics.
Now the team has another memorable triumph that comes awfully close.
On Friday the U.S. team, playing in front of its home crowd, won the world championship by besting its archrival Canada, 3-2, on an overtime goal that was scored by Hilary Knight and set up by Kendall Coyne using the same blazing speed she used to torment opponents throughout the tournament.
It was the fourth time in a row that the U.S. women had defeated Canada for the world title. But what made this championship so special was that it came after the U.S. players took a stand for gender equity in a sport dominated and governed by men.
Demanding increased stipends and other benefits to help support themselves between Olympics, the U.S. players put their chance for a fourth consecutive title on the line. They announced their plans to boycott this tournament when negotiations stalled, but an agreement with USA Hockey, the sport's national governing body, was reached three days before the world championship began.
"It's two storybook endings for us," Knight said. "I can't speak enough of the bond that we created, doing what we did, making history for the next generation."
Kacey Bellamy, who scored the two goals against Canada, said putting the tournament on the line brought the team closer.
"Coming here knowing we won a battle that we've been fighting for over a year, it just made us feel so right coming into the world championship," she said.
Early in the game, Canada signaled that this would be a different contest than the teams' first meeting a week ago, a 2-0 victory for the United States. Just a minute into the game, Megan Agosta took a feed from Jennifer Wakefield on a two-on-one and beat the U.S. goaltender Nicole Hensley.
About 3 1/2 minutes later, after killing a Canadian power play, the Americans evened the score when Bellamy blasted a slap shot from the blue line. As the period wore on, the United States, showing its superior speed, seemed to have the better scoring chances.
But in the second period, Canada was the more energetic team. Hensley kept the Americans in it, making a glove save on a shot by Bailey Bram and covering loose pucks in the crease.
The United States appeared to have seized control 42 seconds into the third period when Knight slid a backward, between-the-legs pass into the slot and Bellamy chopped it past Canadian goalie Shannon Szabados to take the lead. But a tripping call on Brianna Decker put Canada on the power play, and Brianne Jenner fired a low shot just inside the post. Replays confirmed the puck had squeezed past Hensley's pad.
The Americans dominated the action in overtime, but Szabados kept Canada alive. But then Coyne picked up a loose puck at the U.S. blue line and streaked down the ice, dropping the puck for Knight in the left faceoff circle. Knight fired her shot over Szabados' right shoulder for the winning goal.
For Canada, where hockey is nearly a religion, the silver medal represented a disappointing finish and left its women's hockey team facing serious questions with the next Winter Olympics less than a year away.
Canadian forward Meghan Agosta said her team would remember what this defeat felt like while looking to the games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
"Stick together as a team and push harder to get better, not only on the ice but off the ice," she said.
Three years ago, Canada handed the U.S. women a bitter defeat at the Sochi Olympics. Trailing by 2-0 late in the game, they scored one goal with four minutes remaining, tied it in the last minute with their goalie pulled, and won the gold medal in overtime.
The U.S. players said the sting of that defeat had been a constant reminder to improve their game and never count Canada out.
On Friday, the United States held on. The Americans have now won eight world titles to Canada's 10, although Canada has won two in the past 10 years. Canada can still boast that its women's team has won the past four Olympic gold medals, losing only the inaugural Olympic final to the United States in 1998.
"Nothing compares to a gold medal game against Canada," Bellamy said. "The emotions are so high, the energy in the building was incredible, and we had to fight right to the end."