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Team USA players surprise North Pittsburgh Wildcats at practice

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

As 2018 Olympic gold medalist Kendall Coyne Schofield was preparing to surprise the North Pittsburgh Wildcats 12U and 14U girls' teams at their practice on Thursday night at Baierl Ice Complex, she learned that 1998 Olympic gold medalist Tara Mounsey was already on the ice.

Coyne Schofield's reaction of genuine excitement was priceless, as she was thrilled to hear that one of her heroes was in the building. 

"I know when I heard Tara was here, my eyes lit up," said Coyne Schofield, the captain of Team USA, who was there with her teammates Monique Lamoureux-Davidson, Kacey Bellamy, Emily Matheson and Alex Cavallini.

"We saw her gold medal from '98. That's where it started for us. We are here because of her and because of their team. We hope we can be that same inspiration to these young girls out here this evening."

They most definitely were. 

"I couldn't stop smiling," said Marli Dankyer, a center for the 12U team. "Me and my best friend on my team, this is pretty much all we ever dreamed of. This is amazing."

This week, the Penguins are hosting the U.S. and Canada women's national teams for a unique joint training camp at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. 

The teams started practicing on Monday in preparation for their sold-out exhibition games on Friday and Sunday (Mounsey is in town to provide color analysis alongside Josh Getzoff for the games, which will be streamed on HockeyTV).

"It's always a lot of fun to do nights like these in whatever community that we're in," Lamoureux-Morando said. "It's always really fun to be visible for these girls. When we were younger, the '98 team - that was who we dreamed of being. 

"If we're able to light that fire for these girls - whether it's to be on the national team, play in the Olympics, play college hockey, play high school hockey - whatever it is, if we can inspire them in any way, then we're doing our job."

The practice had already been underway for about 20 minutes when Coyne Schofield, Lamoureux-Morando, Bellamy, Matheson and Cavallini - all wearing white Team USA practice jerseys - hopped onto the sheet of ice. 

The coaches then gathered the girls by one of the benches, where the players introduced themselves one at a time and said their name, hometown, college and how many Olympics they've been to. The Wildcats applauded each one with stick taps. 

"It's just incredible to see how they all worked up to the Olympics," said Maelee Ambrass, a goalie for the 14U squad. "What they went through, their college teams and everything and how hard they worked to get there."

After that, they returned to their respective stations, with the Team USA players each taking one. They participated in the drills while offering feedback and encouragement to the girls.

"I definitely want to go play college hockey and I want to try to make it to the Olympics like these girls out there," Ambrass said. "It's really great to see them all come out here and share their knowledge with us."

The Wildcats watched closely as Team USA won gold for the first time in 20 years at the 2018 Olympics in thrilling fashion. Lamoureux-Morando scored the game-tying goal in the third period before her twin, Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, got the game-deciding goal in the shootout.

"I remember I just barely had a little bit of my voice left the next day," Dankyer said. "I went to school and when the teacher called on me, my friend sat next to me and I would write down the answer and she would answer."

Needless to say, it was definitely a little stressful for Dankyer and her teammates to be so close to their heroes.

"It was a little nerve-racking," Dankyer said with a laugh. "We fumbled so many times because we were so excited. It was crazy."

At the end of the practice, the group gathered together once more to thank the Team USA players for dropping in.

"We'll hear you all tomorrow cheering loudly at our game, and we can't wait to see you guys in your own USA jerseys one day, right?" Coyne Schofield told the group. "We're going to take a group photo, but do you think before we do that we should do a big group cheer?"

The players responded with a vehement "YES!"

"Who's the youngest?" Coyne Schofield asked, with the girls all shouting, "CLAIRE!" - referring to 9-year-old Claire Adamosky.

"Okay Claire, your responsibility is to say 'one, two, three,'" Coyne Schofield explained. "The youngest one on our team, Cayla Barnes, also says 'one, two, three.' Then the rest of us say 'USA!' Got it?"

Claire and her teammates happily obliged, chanting 'USA!' before following it up with their own Wildcats cheer.

After everyone got off the ice, the Team USA players signed autographs and posed for photos before heading back to their hotel to get some rest ahead of Friday's big matchup.

"My daughter Lydia said, 'This is so cool, I have to go get their autographs, I want to go meet them, I want them to sign my water bottle,'" said Julie Soose, a parent from the 12U team. "She was just really, really excited. When we ask her, 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' She says, "I want to play hockey.'"

And seeing these girls shows that it's a reality.

"For these young girls to see us and dream to be us one day, that's so important," Coyne Schofield said. "Because our games aren't on TV all the time. We're not as accessible as the NHL is. So for us to be able to get on the ice with the girls, even if it's the day before a game, is so important. These girls now know that they can be us one day because they saw us this evening."

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