The Penguins may be on the road today, but some of the best players in the world still took the ice in Pittsburgh at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex as it marked the first day of the joint training camp with the U.S. and Canadian Women's National Teams.
"We're excited to be here," said Kendall Coyne, the captain of Team USA. "It's extremely exciting to be here hosted by the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. For them to open their arms in the situation that we're in is incredible."
This joint training camp replaces the 2019 Four Nations Cup that was originally scheduled to be played in November in Stockholm, but was canceled due to an ongoing pay dispute with the Swedish players.
"That resulted in us finding a plan B, but I wouldn't call this a plan B because this is an incredible opportunity for the women's national teams from U.S. and Canada to be here," Coyne said.
The training camp will include two exhibition games between the U.S. and Canada on Friday, Nov. 8 at 7 p.m. and a rematch on Sunday, Nov. 10 at 1 p.m. at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. All of their practices throughout the week will be open to the public.
Those practices began today, with Canada holding the first of two sessions at 9 a.m. (the second was scheduled for 5:40 p.m.) and USA hitting the ice at 11:15 a.m. With this week marking the unofficial start of their season, today the players were mostly just thrilled to be reunited with their national teammates. Until now, they had been scattered all over North America.
"We are all over the country, so when we get together we're super excited," Coyne said. "And we're fine-tuning our game. We're excited to put it all together come Friday night and Sunday."
Those aren't going to be your typical exhibition games. This training camp not only replaces an important, prestigious tournament - it will serve as a preview for the five-game Rivalry Series between the U.S. and Canada held from December 2019 through January 2020, along with the 2020 IIHF Women's World Championship set for next March.
"It does help prepare us for the Rivalry Series and the World Championship and provides another evaluation opportunity for our program," Coyne said.
And of course, with this being one of the best rivalries in all of sports, the games are going to be intense. Lately, Team USA has been on the right side of it.
The last time these teams met, Team USA defeated Canada in a shootout at the 2019 World Championship in Finland back in April to capture their fifth consecutive gold medal. Overall, the Americans have won gold in eight of the last nine World Championships.
Team USA is also the reigning Olympic champion after defeating Canada in a shootout, 3-2, at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. It was the Americans' first gold medal in 20 years, with the Canadians winning four in a row following their defeat in the inaugural tournament in Nagano in 1998.
"I think it will be pretty intense," said Marie-Philip Poulin, the captain of Team Canada. "I think any time you have the chance to play the U.S. it's always pretty special. For us, we've been struggling against them, so any time we have the chance to play against them you've got to give your best and give your all. The same thing for them."
Video: The Penguins are hosting the women's national teams.
In addition to the practices and the games (games on Friday and Sunday are sold out, but you can watch each game online here), the players will be doing community activities throughout the week.
Today after practice, members of Team USA took the ice with girls from EXCEL Hockey Academy before joining girls ages 6-12 for a dek hockey clinic at the Graham Park Dek in Cranberry.
On Tuesday, they will be heading to Shadyside Academy to practice with the 14U/16U/19U Penguins Elite teams before doing an ice hockey clinic with 10U and 12U girls on Saturday.
The players will be doing autograph sessions, meet and greets and photo opportunities throughout the week as well.
"To be able to be accessible to the community, whatever community we're in on home soil, that's our home," Coyne said. "This is our home for the week and to be able to reach those girls is extremely important. In addition to that, for those girls to see us on Friday and Sunday and for them to dream about being in our skates one day is so important. It's really exciting."
Click here for the full training camp schedule.
Click here for Team USA's roster.
Click here for Hockey Canada's roster.