If players on the U.S. women's national hockey team, unsatisfied with their pay, keep refusing to play at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship Games starting next month, USA Hockey will find other players who will, promising to "field a competitive team."
It's a tense face-off in the final period between the women's championship team and the group that governs the sport in the lead-up to the Olympics and the world championships.
The latter are being hosted by the United States in Plymouth, Mich., from March 31 through April 7. Team members were expected to arrive for training camp March 21 but say they will skip it unless meaningful progress is made.
"As an athlete, as one of the captains on the team, this was probably the hardest decision we've ever had to make," said Monique Lamoureux-Morando, 27, of Grand Forks, N.D.
She said the push for better financial support was not just for the current national team. "This is for all the women who paved the way before us and for all the girls who are going to put on a jersey in the future."
Lamoureux-Morando said USA Hockey pays them so little that they have to take second and third jobs to sustain themselves. They also say that USA Hockey isn't spending enough marketing dollars to promote women's hockey, nor is it adequately underwriting a girls' development program.
They say negotiations on pay, marketing, and youth development have stalled.
"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," Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey, said in a statement. "We have communicated that increased level of support to the players' representatives and look forward to continuing our discussions."
The organization said it has grown participation in girl's and women's hockey from about 23,000 players in 1998 to more than 73,000 today.
Having won the gold medal in last year's championships in British Columbia, the U.S. team is the reigning world champion. The team has won gold in six of the last eight tournaments.
The team is being represented pro bono in the negotiations by John B. Langel and Dee Spagnuolo of Ballard Spahr in Philadelphia.
Langel represented the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team in a similar action in the past.
Spagnuolo said that during the six-month Olympic period, hockey players receive money from the U.S. Olympic Committee in addition to the $1,000 a month that USA Hockey pays. But in the 3½ years between the Olympics, they rely on a small stipend from the Olympic Committee, $750 to $2,000 a month, and get little from USA Hockey, even though they need to keep training and competing to stay in shape.
"We are asking for a living wage and for USA Hockey to fully support its programs for women and girls and stop treating us like an afterthought," captain Meghan Duggan said in a statement. Duggan helped the team win six world championships and silver medals in the 2010 and 2014 Olympics.
USA Hockey said it was "implementing an order" that could lead to each player's receiving $85,000 in cash during the Olympic training period, in addition to housing, travel and meal allowances, plus insurance.
"No such offer was ever extended," the team countered.