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ESPY Award Win a Watershed Moment for US Women’s National Team (Part One)

Since the brave fight for equity that defined an empowering 2017 edition of the IIHF Women’s World Championships, the perception of the female game has experienced a fascinating yet pivotal renaissance. Making the courageous stand over the rightful struggle for pay equity, not only did it strengthen the concept of team for the wondrous women who don the Stars and Stripes, they have been showered with a combination of praise and acclaim that have quickly endeared them to an entire generation of girls looking to shape their own dreams.

With such admiration, the momentum has signified a remarkable shift in the game’s awareness and relevance, one that has brought with it tremendous milestones. From the first IIHF gold on home soil to a pulse pounding shootout win that supplied the women of USA Hockey with their first Winter Games gold in 20 years, the most recent milestone includes a pair of remarkable rewards.  

Honored with the prestige of the 2018 ESPY Award for Best Game, it was matched by another tremendous decoration from the highly regarded sports network. Bestowed ESPN’s Sports Humanitarian Award the evening before the ESPYS, it not only signified a quantum leap for the relevance of women’s ice hockey in the sporting conversation, it also demonstrated the strong value of teamwork and unity.

Meghan Duggan, whose impact in hockey was accentuated by her role as team captain for the historic outcomes of both 2017 and 2018, has joined the pantheon of global greats in the game. Representing what is great about women’s ice hockey in the United States, Duggan is among the faces of the national team. Providing on-ice brilliance and off-ice inspiration, the chance for Duggan to be part of such a celebrated time in the history of the national team represents a strong point of pride, validating the sweat and sacrifice that has brought revered results for so many,

“The Sports Humanitarian Award was arguably one of the greatest honors our team could receive. The event itself recognized amazing athletes, coaches, and industry professionals who do great things with their sports platforms. To be honored as a group who has ultimately changed the world for the better with their actions is something our team is so proud of. And something we vowed to continue to work towards through our careers and beyond!” 

The feeling of pride reached an even greater level of importance at the ESPYS, as the recognition for Best Game, truly demonstrated how the women of hockey not only tapped into national pride, it served as an opportunity to authenticate their standing as genuine major league and world-class athletes. Other nominees for the Award included the Houston Astros win in Game 5 of the 2017 World Series along with the Georgia Bulldogs exhilarating defeat of the Oklahoma Sooners in a pulse pounding Rose Bowl game that set numerous records. Coincidentally, the Astros would beat out the wondrous women of USA Hockey for the Best Team Award, which included five other notable nominees, including the dynastic Golden State Warriors.

Undoubtedly, the prestige of recognition with an epic ESPY Award was one that made an impression on Kendall Coyne. One of the cornerstones of the US offense, and among the world’s finest forwards, tied for tournament lead at 2017 IIHF Worlds with 12 points, she led the US with 21 shots at Pyeongchang. 

“It was a tremendous honor to win the ESPY for Best Game. When you think of how many games are played in a year around the world, to win Best Game puts our accomplishment into perspective.

My initial reaction was: Wow, I can’t believe we beat the Houston Astros! Their game was amazing. I think it proves that women’s hockey needs to be covered more on TV because people want to watch it and not just every four years.”

The team’s win in Pyeongchang was also nominated for Best Olympic Moment, part of a field that included Shaun White’s emotional triumph in the snowboard, Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall capturing the first gold medals for the US in the women’s Cross Country Skiing event, along with the heroic efforts of the US men’s curling team.

Although Shaun White garnered that award, there was no question as to the incredible impact that the women of hockey held in capturing the hearts and minds of sports fans, a victory as meaningful as the Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid 1980, and the US women capturing the first Winter Games gold in hockey back in Nagano 1998.

While the 2018 women of hockey have gained a spectacular relevance, earning the same hero status as their golden predecessors, there is still no shortage of inspiration. For one of Team USA’s veteran leaders, whose career includes Triple Gold status, Kacey Bellamy definitely found a lot of inspiration on a very moving night at the ESPYS. With the moving speech by Jim Kelly, recipient of the Jimmy V. Perseverance Award, plus the Arthur Ashe Courage Award that included Aly Raisman and numerous other gymnasts, Bellamy found inspiration in the brave fight to overcome their struggles, 

“100% yes that was the biggest take-away of the night for us. We were all so moved by the courage of both Jim Kelly and Aly Raisman along with all the hundreds of women on the stage to top off the amazing night. Everyone is going through something and as athletes to be able to be there supporting each other and find inspiration in each other that is what it is all about. It felt like one big family that night.”

From the outset, the game in question that gained the ESPY Award, was one that completed one of the most dominant Olympic cycles in the game’s nascent history. Regrouping and re-focused following the heartbreak of Sochi, the US garnered three straight IIHF Women’s World Championships (2015, 2016, 2017), including the first on US soil when Hilary Knight blasted the puck past Canada’s Shannon Szabados in a highly intense overtime affair at Plymouth, Michigan in 2017.

Building on this success, the 20th anniversary of the first women’s ice hockey tournament at the Winter Games (Nagano 1998) set the stage for a new legend to take shape. With Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson’s iconic shootout goal, known by the sobriquet “Oops, I did it again”, it was reminiscent, especially in technique, to another memorable shootout.

Once again involving heartbreak for a group of dejected Canadians, Sweden’s Peter Forsberg slipped the puck past Canadian backstop Corey Hirsch in the gold medal game shootout at Lillehammer 1994, history repeating itself in the women’s game nearly 25 years later. Certainly, the modern generation of American female hockey heroes, attributed to Lamoureux-Davidson’s impeccable goal (who also garnered an individual nomination at the ESPY Awards for Best Female Olympic Athlete), now gained the chance to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with legendary icons such as Nagano’s Karyn Bye, Cammi Granato, Angela Ruggiero and Gretchen Ulion as gold medalists.

Considering what Nagano meant to the rapid growth of women’s hockey heading into the next Olympic cycle, the impact of the gold medal in Pyeongchang is destined to raise the game to even greater levels in America. Complemented by the awareness raised through the ESPY Award, among other great honors, Cayla Barnes, at the tender age of 19, one of the youngest player on Team USA’s roster, believes that the recent triumphs will mirror Nagano, holding a similar impact for a new generation,

“Yes, I think so. I also think it shows how far our game has come. Every day we try to grow the game and inspire the next generation. I hope this award keeps pushing the game forward and brings more people to love the women’s game.

(The award) was an amazing accomplishment. Our team works so hard on and off the ice and it is great to be awarded for that. We were honored to be up against so many incredible athletes. Our team deserved to be recognized, so I am truly grateful we got the opportunity.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Images obtained from: Facebook

https://twitter.com/espn/status/1019739257269899266

Women in Sports Gala photo: Nicholas Hunt

NHL Awards photo: Bruce Bennett, Getty Images

Cayla Barnes Photo: Mike Ehrmann Getty Images

Other credits: Michael Kovac


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