It’s not the way she imagined building a business, but women’s world hockey champion Shiann Darkangelo of Brighton is making the best of the two-month break off skates during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A member of USA Hockey’s gold-medal winning team at the 2016 world championships in Kamloops, British Columbia, and one of five players signed last month to the expansion Toronto team in the National Women’s Hockey League, the 26-year-old Darkangelo has had more time to work as a whole foods, plant-based lifestyle coach at Plant-Based Performance.

Darkangelo, a certified plant-based nutritionist, provides online coaching and personalized meal and workout plans from her temporary home in Toronto, where she awaits word when the Canada-U.S. border will reopen while training before the NHWL preseason begins in October.

“People are more concerned about their health than ever,” Darkangelo said. “My approach is not to go cold turkey. Maybe you just want to eat a little less meat or cut down on fish or dairy. I help educate and inspire. I coach people. I like to say this is a lifestyle change and not a diet.”

The 5-foot-9 forward, who played four years with the Little Caesars program before scoring 56 goals during four years of collegiate hockey, began her lifestyle change during freshman year at Syracuse University.

She was having stomach problems and her mom’s plant-based friend suggested cutting out meat. Now, most of her five siblings have followed suit, including younger brother Isaac, who led Northern Michigan’s football team in tackles last year before transferring to Illinois University last month.

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“You have to practice what you preach,” Darkangelo said. “If I was sitting here and crushing chicken nuggets and telling someone to eat this way, I wouldn’t buy it either. Actions speak louder than words. The best way to do it is show people how it works and how they can do it. That’s half the battle.”

Darkangelo began her whole foods, plant-based business two years ago after returning from an eye-opening hockey season in China with the expansion Kunlun Red Star in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

With a minimum player salary of $50,000 (U.S), first-class travel and a place to live in Shenzen (20 miles north of Hong Kong), Darkangelo said they were treated “like first-class athletes” and “got a sniff of what it’s like to be a professional athlete.”

Now, with each NWHL team limited to a $150,000 salary cap for 20 players (an average of $7,500 per player), she’s balancing time with her business while trying to grow the league and eventually aiming for an average hockey salary of $30,000 to $40,000.

“We want to build and grow a sustainable model built by women and for women,” said Toronto president and longtime Brown University coach Digit Murphy, who was one of the first beneficiaries of Title IX legislation to prohibit sex discrimination in education back when she played for the women’s hockey team at Cornell University in the 1970s.

“Our core values are inclusion, education and empowerment. It’s not all about win, win, win. What are you doing to elevate the conversation around what these women are doing in the community? Sports is our platform and Shiann is one of our fantastic five players.

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“She’s not only a powerful presence on the ice with a big, heavy shot but she’s smart, articulate, a leader and she has guts. She will have a positive influence on other players on the team and in the community.”

Darkangelo says she’s grateful for the role of hockey in her life.

A fan of Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk growing up in Brighton, she dreamed of playing in the Olympics but was one of the last cuts before the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.

“That was tough to hear, sitting in a room with three coaches telling you that you didn’t make it,” said Darkangelo, who hasn’t ruled out competing for a job at the 2022 Games in Beijing. “Getting on that bus and going home was hard, especially when you put so much time and effort into training.

“But everything happens for a reason, like my time in China, learning things about myself and starting my own business. It opens your eyes to other opportunities. I’m still super excited to continue to play the game I love, to be a role model and reach more people through playing hockey.”

Shiann Darkangelo profile

Who: Shiann Darkangelo

What: One of five players signed to the expansion Toronto franchise in the National Women’s Hockey League

Born: Brighton, Michigan

Age: 26

Hockey highlights: Member of the 2016 United States team which won a gold medal at the world championships in Kamloops. Played four years of college hockey with the Syracuse Orange and Quinnipiac Bobcats. Also played professionally for the Connecticut Whale, Buffalo Beauts, Kunlun Red Star and Toronto Furies.

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Business: Owner and lifestyle coach of Plant-Based Performance, a whole foods, plant-based company.

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