TAMPA (FOX 13) - The gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team made a stop in Tampa as they visit cities across the U.S.
The team returns home to celebrations of its momentous gold-medal victory at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
The team’s homecoming kicked off February 26 in Los Angeles where they appeared on Ellen and were honored at the Los Angeles Kings home game against the Vegas Golden Knights at the STAPLES Center.
Tuesday night, these women got an arrival fit for champions. They were welcomed to Tampa with cheers, American flags, balloons, and even a water salute for their plane.
When Kathy Cauwels got word that the U.S. Olympic Women's Hockey Team was headed to Tampa International, "I rushed home and grabbed my jersey and camera and rushed here," Cauwels said.
After all, how often, on a Tuesday, do you get to high five a gold medalist?
When Delta Flight 1497 touched down, all of TIA took notice. Over the loudspeaker, travelers heard, "Please help us welcome our United States of America ladies hockey team, gold medalists, gate E 64."
When the gate door opened, chants of "U.S.A." began.
Gretchen Shires was a passenger on the flight. "They had the entire plane serve champagne, those that wanted it, and we did a big salute. We were so excited. They were very humble."
It was an arrival two decades in the making. The U.S. women's overtime win against the Canadians brought the team's first gold medal since the 1998 games in Nagano, Japan.
When the team finally exited the plane, cheers echoed throughout the terminal. Players, still basking in the glow of the gold, held up their cell phone cameras to capture the moment.
"To land here in Tampa with all the fans and people cheering at our gate, it was really special and we are so proud to be American and I could cry just talking, we're so thankful," Gigi Marvin of the U.S. Women's Hockey Team.
"It's crazy," said Amanda Kessel. "It's been a whirlwind. It's really fun and for us and it's exciting to see you know, all of America kind of bought into our team and what happened and now we are just hoping to inspire the future."
Tampa is a fitting stop on their gold medal tour. They perfected their game just up the road from the city. The women's team lived and trained in Wesley Chapel since September to prepare for the Winter Games.
"Tampa's amazing," Marvin said. "I loved it. It's funny because people are like, what are you doing in Tampa? You guys are hockey players and I am like, you do not understand the love people in Tampa have."
It's a love that has certainly grown a lot stronger.
"Just, congratulations," Cauwels said while waiting for the team. "We are so proud of you, not only for everything you do on the ice but for everything you do off the ice, too, because you are role models for so many people, including so many little girls."
The Women's Team will be recognized at the Tampa Bay Lightning home game against the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday, February 28 at AMALIE Arena.
Next on the tour are Washington, D.C. and New York City.