USA Hockey, women reach agreement; seek growth for sport

While the impending start of the world championships created urgency for USA Hockey and the women’s national team to hammer out a deal, the agreement had everything to do with tournaments over the next four years and beyond.

The sides finalized an agreement Tuesday night that avoided what would’ve been a historic boycott for the defending gold medalists at the world championships on home ice. Instead, they settled on terms that could lead to players earning as much as $129,000 in an Olympic year and also set USA Hockey on a path to grow the women’s game even further.

“We didn’t want to settle for something that wasn’t going to push women’s hockey as far as we thought it was able to go,” U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said by phone. “Really excited about what this brings for the future of women’s hockey, obviously for our team right now, the way that it represents the past USA Hockey. I think it’s all around an incredible deal and an incredible day and moment.”

The deal means players will be on the ice Friday in Plymouth, Michigan, to begin their title defense against archrival Canada. The team is scheduled to practice Wednesday once everyone arrives for hurried preparations in advance of a tournament that will now be a celebration of USA Hockey instead of a stage for criticism for not getting a deal done.

USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean said laying a foundation for the future of the women’s game was the crux of the agreement.

“It was critical to go through this process and to get this done, and I’m pretty sure that the women are very, very satisfied with where we ended up and it puts us in a great place to all move forward in a great way,” Ogrean said by phone Tuesday night.

Coming off making just $1,000 a month for six months around the Olympics, this contract pays players roughly $3,000 a month, with annual compensation surpassing $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 and $37,500 for gold, $22,500 for silver and $15,000 for bronze from the USOC, which means 2018 could be a banner year for the women’s national team based on its success in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

As part of the agreement, players also received business class travel that men get for the world championships and the insurance protection they asked for.

“There was compromises on both sides, but the contract in its entirety, it’s going to change the lives of the current players that are on the team right now (and also) the next generation,” star forward Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson said by phone. “It’s going to be a turning point for women’s hockey in the U.S. (and) I feel like a turning point for women’s hockey in the world.”

Duggan called it a “historic moment in women’s sports.” USA Hockey president Jim Smith said people will look back on this day “as one of the most positive in the history” of the organization.

After more than a year of negotiations over wages and equitable support, players announced March 15 that they’d boycott the International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championship if significant progress wasn’t made toward an agreement. The sides met for 10-plus hours in person last week and continued conversations before finally agreeing to a deal.

Duggan said she was concerned about not being on the ice to begin the tournament.

“That was a reality from Day One,” Duggan said. “We put that on the line and we made a promise to ourselves that until we reached an agreement that we thought was acceptable and we had made progress, that was a realization that maybe we wouldn’t be there.”

Over the course of the public dispute, unions from the NHL, NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball and 16 U.S. senators voiced support for the players. NHL agent Allan Walsh tweeted that men’s players were considering boycotting their world championship in solidarity if a deal didn’t get done.

It took until almost the last minute, but a deal did get done that includes the formation of a women’s high performance advisory group with current and former players — like Hockey Canada has had for some time. The group’s goal is to advance girl’s and women’s hockey programing, marketing, promotion and fundraising to augment existing grassroots programs.

“That’s an instrumental part in the contract,” Lamoureux-Davidson said. “It’s going to be important to not just sign a deal and be done with it but to continue to grow the sport and to market our sport and market the players and it’s just going to create numbers at the grassroots level that I think players want to see and USA Hockey wants to see. That’s going to be a big part in just growing the game still.”

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