The U.S. women's hockey team threatened to boycott the upcoming world championship tournament on home ice Wednesday unless there is significant progress in settling a wage dispute with USA Hockey they say has dragged on for months.
Players said they informed USA Hockey that they would not report to training camp next week without clear steps toward what they hope is a four-year contract. The U.S. is the defending champion after winning the gold medal last year.
"To voluntarily take ourselves out of the running to (repeat) is not easy, but it's what's right and we're asking for what's right and fair," forward Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson said by phone. "It's definitely hard. But as a group we've made this decision and as a team and I'm proud to do this with my teammates and to stand arm in arm with them and to say enough is enough."
USA Hockey said the organization and the U.S. Olympic Committee provide national team players with financial support, training opportunities, camps and strength and conditioning programs.
"We acknowledge the players' concerns and have proactively increased our level of direct support to the Women's National Team as we prepare for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games," USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean said. "We have communicated that increased level of support to the players' representatives and look forward to continuing our discussions."
USA Hockey said each player participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea could receive up to $85,000, which also includes medal incentives. Team captain Meghan Duggan called the statement "completely misleading and dishonest," and the law firm representing the players said no $85,000 offer was made.
"It's an example of them kind of disregarding anything that we're asking and basically disregarding our request to be under contract for a four-year period and any of that," Duggan said, adding that the players are also asking for insurance and travel expenses that they don't feel are provided on an equal level as men's players.
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Neither USA Hockey nor the players would reveal details of the wages in dispute or how the men's team is compensated. The U.S. men's team is comprised of highly paid NHL players, as are most established national teams.
Lamoureux-Davidson said she the other players recently received a bonus payment for its December series against Canada.
"Other than that one check, we virtually get paid nothing," she said. "We get paid for six months out of a four-year span."
Lamoureux also tweeted the U.S. Women's Hockey's response to the statement posted by USA Hockey saying that the $85,000 offer was never extended.
The U.S. team was already in the midst of change after Ken Klee was replaced as coach by Robb Stauber just a few weeks ago. USA Hockey said it planned to "field a competitive team" for the tournament, which comes less than a year before the Olympics.
How that team would be put together wasn't immediately clear, but USA Hockey President Jim Smith declared that "USA Hockey's role is not to employ athletes and we will not do so."
USA Hockey said it is committed to growing women's hockey and that more than 73,000 women play hockey in the U.S. now compared with 23,000 in 1998, when the Americans won gold at the first Olympics with a women's tournament.
But the players pointed to the $3.5 million USA Hockey spends annually on its men's team development program with no comparable setup for the women.
Women's players have had contracts only in Olympic years and are seeking a deal that covers them in off years. According to Lamoureux-Davidson, USA Hockey has paid players $1,000 a month during their six-month Olympic residency period and nothing the rest of the time.
"They're looking for support for every year so that they don't have to have second and third jobs and don't have to have family supporting them," said John Langel, an attorney for the players. He characterized the negotiating gap with USA Hockey as a chasm.
The wage dispute follows one by U.S. women's soccer players, who last March filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that alleged wage discrimination by the U.S. Soccer Federation.
Lamoureux-Davidson said the hockey players have been in touch with soccer players about their dispute, which is ongoing; Langel represented U.S. women's soccer players from 1998 to 2014.
Cammi Granato, one of the first women in the Hockey Hall of Fame after being inducted in 2010, dealt with wage disputes during her career and appreciates current players taking such a difficult stand.
"It says a lot for what they're fighting for," Granato said. "It says a lot for the fact that there needs to be change. This takes a lot of courage."
Lamoureux-Davidson said players are hopeful that taking a stand will force the issue.
"We all want to go play," she said. "But it's been 14 months and we haven't seen progress, so if there's progress within the next week and a half, we'll see.."