- Associated Press - Friday, August 11, 2017

Defenseman Monique Lamoureux-Morando and forward Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson hit the road early Friday morning with a cooler packed with fruit, granola, juice and seltzer water and music spilling everything from country to ‘90s hip-hop and some ‘80s rock from the car speakers.

A 27-hour road trip requires supplies and tunes.

And the members of the U.S. women’s national hockey team are ready to start training for the 2018 Winter Olympics, so eager that not even the prospect of driving from North Dakota to Tampa is daunting .

“I think our entire team is just excited to get to Tampa and start training,” Lamoureux-Morando said.

“We’re going early. We don’t have to report to Tampa for another three weeks, so we’re excited to get down there and get together and start training together full time. I think it wasn’t necessarily the case for people wanting to be where we had to be early in the past.”

The U.S. women are coming off a couple of very big wins earlier this year. First, they threatened to boycott the world championship in Michigan over a wage dispute with USA Hockey in March before agreeing to a four-year deal paying them $70,000 in non-Olympic years and as much as $129,000 in Olympic years with bonuses for winning gold. They also earned the same travel, accommodations and insurance as the men’s team.

Then the Americans beat Canada 3-2 in overtime for their fourth straight world championship title and eighth in the past 10 tries against their rivals, who are also the defending Olympic champions after winning gold in 2014 in Sochi.

“It’s been just three years,” Lamoureux-Morando said. “But this is the peak of what we train for, the pinnacle of our sport, and we’re ready to go and get together and start making strides together as a team.”

The Lamoureux sisters aren’t alone. U.S. captain Meghan Duggan started driving from Boston on Friday morning, while defenseman Kacey Bellamy and forward Brianna Decker went to Tampa earlier this week. Lamoreux-Davidson said some other teammates are coming down this weekend with others going to Tampa next weekend.

“I think we have the hardest drive, but if you ship a car from North Dakota there’s a little bit of lag time on when it could get there,” Lamoureux-Davidson said. “Not a lot of people are shipping their vehicles from around our area, so we figured we’d drive over a weekend.”

This isn’t the first time they’ve made a long road trip to start training for the Olympics. Four years ago, they drove to Boston, which is about 100 miles shorter than a trip to Tampa. Lamoureux-Morando is driving, while Lamoureux-Davidson handles navigation.

They left Grand Forks, North Dakota, just before 6 a.m. with a pit stop planned near Nashville, Tennessee, in a leg of the trip lasting about 17 hours even with a time change from Mountain to Central. The second leg is expected to take about 10 hours, and the sisters are competing with Duggan, whose drive is approximately 8 hours shorter.

“I’ve been doing all the driving so far, so Jocelyn will have to text her,” Lamoreux-Morando said. “We know she left this morning, so my goal is to get there before she does.”

Some teammates drove from Minneapolis, and that means needing a vehicle to run an errand in Tampa will be easy to borrow. Lamoureux-Morando recalled in 2010 when the sisters lived with four other teammates outside of Minneapolis using their parents’ Chevy Astro van.

“We were all in college at the time, so we all had to like carpool and figure out who’s going where,” Lamoreux-Morando said. “We’re all a little bit older now. We like to have our own cars now and be a little bit more independent.”

Once in Tampa, the Americans already have a schedule of training both on and off the ice with each day taking five to eight hours at an ice rink with a gym across the street. They also will have some time to check out the sights in an area where the national team tryouts were held earlier this year.

The sisters are sharing some of their drive on social media. Just don’t expect lots of stops or any sightseeing.

“We’ve never been from Nashville down, but we’ll see it,” Lamoureux-Davidson said. “We’re just going to drive by. Once we get on the road, we’re in a hurry to get to the destination.”

Even if Tampa is just the first stop on the way to South Korea.

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

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