MADISON, Wis. (WEAU) -- When women's hockey first debuted in the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics in Japan, the United States captured the gold medal, but in the four ensuing Olympic Games, team Canada has held a firm grasp on gold.
Tonight, WEAU’s Bob Gallaher looks at how the growth of women's hockey has exploded in the span of two decades.
The teams that we compete against at the college level have a lot more depth on their teams than they did 6, 7 years ago. Certainly, the Olympics have helped that because people get exposed to that all over the country and all over the world.
In addition to his Olympic gold in 1980, Mark Johnson has won four national championships with the Wisconsin Badgers. But he admits the women's hockey team that won gold in 1998 has been the catalyst to all his success here in Madison.
"You go back to '98 in Nagano when the US won the gold medal, the next 15-18 months you saw a huge spike in the number of young ladies who got interested in hockey. Over the course of the last four or five Olympics, you have seen the same thing, so the numbers of girls getting the opportunity to play the game of hockey has grown considerably, from what I've seen,” said Mark Johnson, Wisconsin Women’s’ Hockey Coach.
The team gearing up to compete in February includes 13 first-time Olympians, including five college players. Still, despite the newbies, the team is built on a core group of eight athletes who have played more than 100 international games with the team. And while the United States has won four consecutive world championships, they only have one gold medal in five Olympic chances.
"It's the greatest honor in the world. It's something I take a ton of pride in every time I put on my jersey, the crest of it, and I think about how honored I am to play for my country, and how important it is to me, every single time and every single game to have that C on my chest to recognize me as a leader of this group and someone who can hopefully lead us to the gold medal,” said Meghan Duggan, United States Olympic Women’s’ Hockey Player.
For Duggan, and another former badger, Hilary Knight, this will be their third crack at Olympic gold. Standing in the way of the women, team Canada in what has become an intense rivalry.
"It brings out the best competition on both sides, it is a passionate, gut-wrenching amazingly tactful, skillful game and the fans are never disappointed, we as competitors are never disappointed and it always keeps us on our toes, which is just incredible,” said Knight.
The United States Women's Hockey Team opens their quest for Olympic gold this Sunday, February 11 with their first preliminary game against Finland. The Winters Olympics begin Thursday night, with opening ceremonies on Friday.