February 08, 2017

NEW YORK (AP) Women's hockey stars Meghan Duggan and Hilary Knight say they aren't concerned about the future of the National Women's Hockey League despite a turbulent second season.

Duggan told The Associated Press on Tuesday night she still expects ''big things for the league'' despite a pair of setbacks in recent months. The four-team NWHL is the first North American women's hockey league to pay its players, but in November those salaries were cut by half. Then last week, the league announced this season will be cut short before national team players leave for the world championships, which begin March 31 in Plymouth, Michigan.

''It's a startup. It's the growing pains of it all,'' Duggan said. ''I think if you look back ... the NHL and how it all started, or any of the pro sports leagues around the country, it's just growing pains. We're doing everything we can to keep the product great on the ice.''

The league, which pays players between $10,000 and $26,000 per season, also announced last week that all four franchises - New York; Boston; Stamford, Connecticut; and Buffalo, New York - will return for a third season.

''When I look at it from a growth of women's hockey standpoint, it's great that we had such strides,'' Knight said. ''It's unfortunate that they did not go as far as we originally had planned and hoped for. So hopefully there's something better that's coming in the future.''

One nice feature of the NWHL for USA Hockey is it gives national team players more game reps against high-level competition. Duggan and Knight are both two-time Olympic silver medalists, having lost to Canada in the championship game in Vancouver in 2010 and Sochi in 2014. They're playing together on the Boston Pride this season while preparing for the 2018 games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and were in New York on Tuesday as part of a press tour arranged by the US Olympic Committee.

''It's certainly helped us,'' Duggan said. ''You get a couple practices in, you get a game in on the weekend, we get to train together, play on the same team, so it's a great place for us to get all that done.''

Despite the league's volatility this season, both women are encouraged by the commitment of the players and the league's front office, and they still see the NWHL as an avenue to spark more interest in the women's game.

''I can't emphasize enough how exciting it is to be a female in women's sports right now, but to be a female ice hockey player,'' Knight said. ''There's some exciting things on the horizon.''

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