The United States Women’s National Team in hockey won, big time, off the ice this week, negotiating with USA Hockey to significantly improve opportunity to make a living playing the sport.
The players now hope to win on the ice. They begin defending their world championship at home against arch-rival Canada at 7:30 Friday, in USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth.
“It was about the whole team the whole time and, you know, we made it happen,” their captain, Meghan Duggan, said before practice on Thursday.
Negotiations resulted in a 300 percent pay increase and more support for both the Women’s National Team and the development of younger players.
“So, we’re here in Michigan,” Duggan said. “We’re excited for the tournament to kick-off tomorrow night, and we’re ready to go.
“We’re a 100 percent, yeah. Never been more ready.”
The two-time world champion and Olympic silver medalist is the 2011 Patty Kazmaier Award winner for the best women’s player in college hockey.
But off the ice, Duggan and other members of the team became, in effect, labor leaders.
After forming, with air-tight solidarity among women and girls as young as 16, a united front to boycott the championship if their demands were not met, USA Hockey acceded to almost all of them Tuesday.
The results are already tangible, the women say.
“For my situation, it allows me to hopefully make my third Olympics, and now my conversation with my husband changes,” said defenseman Monique Lamoureux-Morando.
“I don’t have to choose now between being a mom and a hockey player. I can do both.
“What we’ve said from the get-go is that you shouldn’t have to choose,” Lamoureux-Morando said. “And, now, we’re in a situation where we won’t have to.”
Team morale soaring
The impact, on team morale, of the big win off the ice? Like launching a rocket.
“Energy within our locker room and on the ice for practice is just electric,” Duggan said.
“We’re excited and a really strong, powerful, united group, as everyone saw, throughout the last couple weeks.”
USA coach Robb Stauber said he had complete confidence the players would do what they needed to do mentally for the championship, and as much as they could physically.
He said they are popping on skates.
“They’re pretty satisfied,” said Stauber, a former NHL goalie and the winner of the 1988 Hobey Baker Award as the best men’s player in collegiate hockey.
“I think they can really focus and enjoy the tournament.
“Obviously, there we’re some pretty intense negotiations the last two weeks. To be able to get that behind everyone is a big deal.
“When you can play free and you don’t have a lot of distractions,” Stauber said. “It should help everyone.”
Despite boycotting a week-long training camp sent for Traverse City beginning March 21, Team USA’s practice looked brisk on Thursday. Duggan said everyone got some skating in, even during the long hours of negotiations in recent weeks.
“Sure, we skated and got the other work done, too,” she said, smiling.
With a shrug, she added, “We’re professional athletes, so there’s no days off.”
‘Changed the landscape’
Before the agreement Tuesday, the players earned $1,000 a month for six months around Olympics and World Championships. They will now earn $3,000 per month, and annual compensation can surpass $70,000 when combined with contributions from the United States Olympic Committee.
Players receive Olympic medal bonuses of $20,000 for gold and $15,000 for silver from USA Hockey. They get $37,500 for gold, $22,500 for silver and $15,000 for bronze from the USOC.
The only other livelihoods for women hockey players are in the four-team National Women’s Hockey League, which began play in October 2015.
Each NWHL team has a total salary cap of $270,000, and individual players can also earn 15 percent of the profits on the sale of jerseys with their names.
From that perspective, some observers of women’s hockey say, the agreement secured by the national team increased the opportunity for women to earn a living playing hockey by about 20 percent, just based on the number of roster positions on Team USA and the four NWHL teams.
“There is no question that they have changed the opportunities and the landscape of what’s possible for woman hockey players,” said Shaunna Thomas, co-founder of UltraViolet, an advocacy group that supported the players.
“But the truth is, this is a huge win for female athletes everywhere in every sport, in a lot of ways. And I take it a step further and say this is a huge victory for the movement for equal pay in every industry in every sector across the board.
“Women having to fight for equal pay is a reality.”
Past players were among the biggest supporters of the effort.
“These things have been long overdue,” Cammi Granato, a former captain of Team USA, wrote for ESPN about the agreement.
“These women have changed the landscape of what women’s hockey is in the United States.
“It is monumental, not only for the future of the women’s national team, but also for all girls in hockey in the United States. It might also be a catalyst for other countries’ women’s teams to fight for the same issues within their governing bodies.”
In fact, Lamoureux-Morando said the players were heartened to learn Wednesday from players in Hungary that they were approached by the organizing body for their team, after the women’s agreement with USA Hockey, with an offer of more support.
The United States Women’s National Team in soccer undertook a similar initiative with USA Soccer last year, and some of their issues remain before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In tennis, dynamic, revenue-attracting stars like Billy Jean King, Chris Evert, Steffi Graf and especially Serena and Venus Williams have helped drive better pay, benefits and marketing opportunities.
But opportunities for women to make a living in other sports lags.
And the women’s “Captain America” took note of that.
“It’s historic,” Duggan said.
“I think it shows women both in and out of sport: Do more. Be more. Be better.
“Put pressure on people and stand up for what you believe in.”
IIHF Women’s World Championships
When: Friday-April 7
Where: USA Hockey Arena, 14900 Beck, Plymouth
Friday: Practice, 11:15-11:45 a.m.; game vs. Canada, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday: Practice, 8:45-9:15 a.m.; game vs. Russia, 3:30 p.m.
Monday: Practice, 11:15-11:45 a.m.; game vs. Finland, 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday: Quarterfinals, TBA
Wednesday: Practice, TBA
Thursday: Semifinals, 3:30 or 5:30 p.m.
Friday, April 7: Bronze medal game, 3:30 p.m.; gold medal game, 7:30