Following a week-long standoff between the women of the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team (USWNT) and USA Hockey, the country’s governing hockey body blinked.
Friday morning, the women were on the ice for their only practice before the World Championship tournament they did not know they would be attending. They ended their boycott of the World Championships hours before they were slated to face the rival Canadians, and two days after signing their landmark agreement with USA Hockey.
“I’m glad we could come together and reach an agreement that will have a positive and lasting impact,” USWNT star Hilary Knight said of the deal. “This is an inspirational time and we’re excited to get back on the ice and represent our country.”
Details of the agreement were released on March 29. Each player will now receive USD$70,000 in compensation, along with performance bonuses which include USD$20,000 for a gold medal and USD$15,000 for silver. Players will also receive a USD$2,000 stipend, insurance, travel compensation, and per diem amounts on par with the men’s team. Marketing, scheduling, and public relations committees will be established, substantially increasing the support the team has.
These are massive gains for the women, who previously received around USD$6,000 from USA Hockey during Olympic years, in return for staying in peak shape and attending various tournaments. Meanwhile, the USA Hockey National Team Development Program – a U-18 team which has churned out names like Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, Jack Eichel, and Auston Matthews – receives around $3.5 million in funding annually.
“That’s what basically we’ve been saying all along: ‘What do they have? Okay, equitable to that,’” American defender Kacey Bellamy told the Associated Press. “And I think that that’s the most important thing. We’re not asking for more.”
On the right side of history: USWNT supporters
The writing appeared to be on the wall throughout the fight, with countless professional athletes and organizations standing behind the women.
“These women understand inequality when they see it and are expressing their right to be treated fairly as athletes and workers,” read a statement by the NFL Players Association. “Of course, they have our support in daring to withhold their services until a fair agreement is reached.”
“NHL players fully support the U.S. Women’s National Team’s effort to reach an equitable agreement with USA hockey,” the NHLPA said in a statement. “It is important that the best American women players be on the ice for the World Championship and the notion of seeking replacement players will only serve to make relations, now and in the future, much worse.”
USA Hockey seemed to be sticking to statements made earlier this month, stating that they wouldn’t pay their players to play. In an effort to grease the wheels in negotiations, USA Hockey began reaching out to players in order to build a replacement team, but were met with swift resistance as players chose to stand with the USWNT.
USA Hockey asked current pros, college players, high school players, and even asked a few rec-league players to fill out the roster. However they consistently received the same response.
“What I kept going back to is, ‘How do I say no, but how do I say yes?’ I mean, I just play in a beer league,” an anonymous player told ESPN. “I just play for fun now. I don’t train like I did in college. It’s insane.”
The challenge ahead: the 2017 World Championship
Despite the short turn around, expectations will be high for the defending champs. The USWNT has medaled in every World Championship since the tournament began, meeting team Canada in the finals every single time.
The United States has won the last three world championships, leaving Canada hungry to take them down on home soil. However, the Canadians are happy their bitter rivals will be taking part this year.
“We’re excited that they’re here,” team Canada goalie Shannon Szabados told the Associated Press. “It wouldn’t be the same without them whether they weren’t here or if it was a different squad that they brought.”
Even with the star-studded roster, the USWNT will be in for a tough slog. The talent pool in women’s hockey has grown steadily over the years, with many European players playing college hockey in North America. Look for Finland – who own the third highest medal total at the World’s, despite only ever winning bronze – to make noise in the tournament, along with team Russia.
As fans tune in to watch the women in red and white try to take home the gold, they shouldn’t forget the history that was made. The win for the USWNT in these negotiations was not just a win for them, but for all of women’s hockey.
However, with the storm surrounding the NWHL and the axing of the University of North Dakota women’s hockey team, which abruptly ended due to lack of funding from the university, there is much more work to be done to make sure young girls can have the same hockey dreams as young boys.