Women’s hockey dispute drags on as Plymouth tourney nears

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Plymouth — The USA women hockey players say they will not defend their World Championship, beginning March 31 at USA Hockey Arena, unless USA Hockey addresses their concerns about pay, benefits and training conditions.

Team USA hockey goalie Alex Rigsby practices in Plymouth Township in December. The team did not take the ice for a training camp this week.

USA Hockey said Friday it has begun to look for alternative players to fill a roster in the tournament, which includes the USA’s ever-present rival, Canada.

The two sides seem to be digging in, with the United States participation in the most prominent international women’s hockey event, other than the Olympics, in the balance.

The players said they expected perhaps significant progress earlier this week, and were disappointed.

“Yesterday, we had some media ask if they made a counter proposal,” said Meghan Duggan, the captain of Team USA, who also plays for the Boston Pride of the National Women’s Hockey League.

“They did. They made a pretty disappointing offer Thursday that really didn’t reflect the progress of the negotiations that had been made Monday.

“In addition, we got wind that they were attempting to secure an additional team to play in the world championships.”

USA Hockey declined comment.

The dispute became public two weeks ago, after months of negotiations over a series of issues, when the players announced their intent to boycott the 2017 International Ice Hockey Federations World Championship unless progress is made.

By Monday, reportedly after 10 hours of negotiations, it appeared movement was at hand.

“We had productive meetings today with players that are part of the U.S. Women’s National Team program and their representatives, and conversations will continue this week,” USA Hockey said then, in a statement. “Our goal remains to have the players we previously announced as the U.S. Women’s National Team be the group that represents our country.”

USA women's team members are seeking salaries of $68,000 per year and job benefits for IIHF games equal to those of the men's national team.

But, on Thursday, USA Hockey said that while it “remains committed to resolving issues with the players,” it was beginning to seek other players.

“With the tournament less than 10 days away, USA Hockey shared with the players’ representatives today that it will begin reaching out to alternate players to determine their availability and interest in representing the U.S. in the event a resolution cannot be reached,” USA Hockey said.

The women are seeking salaries of $68,000 per year and job benefits for IIHF games equal to those of the men.

They are also demanding disability insurance, business class flights and the ability to bring guests to some games. USA Hockey pays for some transportation for guests of men’s players at their IIHF World Championship, and they fly business class.

The women are seeking disability insurance, which the men receive, maternity leave and child care.

They also want USA Hockey to seek more games for them to play and to better market the sport.

“We are among many other things, asking for a simple, livable wage,” Duggan said. “And in addition to that, just asking for equitable support in a lot of other areas, in terms of travel, and meals, and staffing, and injury protection, and insurance, and marketing and P.R.

“They should market and respect the women’s program.”

In a statement during the negotiations, USA Hockey said it offered the players a $24,000 annual salary, with $7,500 more for a world championship.

In an Olympic year, USA Hockey said, the women would earn salaries between $74,000 and $90,000, if they won silver or gold.

“The players’ demands would result in total player compensation in an Olympic year of approximately $210,000 per player if the team attains a silver medal and $237,000 for a gold medal,” the USA Hockey said, in a statement.

The women criticized the numbers, saying they include payment from the U.S. Olympic Committee, which all athletes receive.

The players currently receive $1,000 per month for the six months leading up to the Olympics.

USA Hockey offered to increase that to $3,000.

The players receive from $8,400 to $24,000 in annual stipends from the USOC, they say, depending on seniority.

The USOC also offers bonuses for Olympic medals, which are set to increase to $37,500 for gold, $22,000 for silver and $15,000 for bronze, at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

Both sides said March 17 they made progress during discussions, and they would continue talking.

But the women did not take the ice for a scheduled training camp in Traverse City, beginning Wednesday, or for a pre-tournament game against Finland, scheduled Friday.

On Thursday, USA Hockey told the players it began to seek other players to form a new team for the tournament.

Duggan said the players are confident USA Hockey will not be able to recruit a team.

“A forward-looking agreement will benefit the next generation of players even more than the current players,” the players said, in response to the recruitment moves by USA Hockey. “For that reason, and the fact that the younger players identify with us, we are confident that they would not choose to play.”

Annie Pankowski, a defenseman for Wisconsin, Brittany Bugalski, a goalie for Northeastern, Taylor Williamson, a forward for Minnesota, and Sammy Davis, a forward for Boston University, all said Friday they will refuse to replace the negotiating players.

“I can’t imagine anyone playing,” Duggan said. “It will be impossible for them to field a team.

“This fight is not about the 23 girls who are rostered on that championship team. We made this decision hand-in-hand with a lot of female hockey players in this country,” she said.

“This is about women athletes in this country, and even outside of sport.”

IIHF Women’s World Championships

When: March 31-April 7

Where: USA Hockey Arena, 14900 Beck, Plymouth

Tickets: usahockeyarena.com

USA schedule

March 30: Practice, 3:15-4:15 p.m.

March 31: Practice, 11:15-11:45 a.m.; game vs. Canada, 7:30 p.m.

April 1: Practice, 8:45-9:15 a.m.; game vs. Russia, 3:30 p.m.

April 3: Practice, 11:15-11:45 a.m.; game vs. Finland, 7:30 p.m.

April 4: Quarterfinals, TBA

April 5: Practice, TBA

April 6: Semifinals, 3:30 or 5:30 p.m.

April 7: Bronze medal game, 3:30 p.m.; gold medal game, 7:30 p.m.