- The U.S. women's hockey team came to an agreement with USA Hockey that gets the players back on ice to defend their World Championship title, and, more importantly, provides a future for the next generation.
The i’s dotted and the t’s crossed, it was time for everyone to start looking forward.
On Tuesday, the U.S. women’s national hockey team reached an agreement with USA Hockey that ended a nearly two-week long threat of a boycott of the upcoming Women’s World Championships in Plymouth, Michigan. While both sides agreed to keep financial terms to themselves, it was reported that the four-year deal would pay players $3,000-4,000 a month, up from $6,000 over a four-year Olympic cycle. According to the Associated Press, that means players could earn over $70,000 annually when combined with money from the USOC, and up to $129,000 with a gold medal victory in the 2018 Games.
“The agreement is going to change how we're able to train on a day to the day basis,” USWNT forward Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson told SI.com. “We're going to have the financial support from USA Hockey, so it's going to allow us to focus more on being an elite athlete, 24/7, instead of trying to squeeze it in between a workday.”
The contract is the culmination of year-and-a-half long negotiations that went beyond financial support for the players, including requests for comparable travel, insurance, marketing and player development as the men’s team.
“A lot of people have just been focused on the dollar signs and that piece is essential for growing the sport,” she said. “The next generation has been at the forefront of our message this whole time and we want girls to be able to see women's national team players. We want them to see it on TV, on social media, and what they can see, they can dream that then. We feel like that's a very, very essential part to this whole agreement.”
The creation of an advisory committee will play a role in helping the program gain exposure going forward. It will be filled out with current and former players along with USA Hockey officials and outside marketing. For Lamoureux-Davidson and her teammates, its existence points to taking care of the up-and-coming players.
“I think that piece of this negotiation has been underrated,” she said. “[It’s] going to help grow women's hockey from the grassroots level in the U.S.. We're going to market our team more and hopefully have more visibility and basically, keep growing the sport. We all love it and we all know that our time is limited on the senior team right now, and so it's really going to impact the next generation.”
That generation played a major role in getting things done, as players from the team pool, professional, collegiate and amateur levels turned down USA Hockey’s attempt to field a team in spite of the boycott. Lamoureux-Davidson points to constant communication among all the players—team captain Meghan Duggan reportedly made over 500 phone calls to educate players on the situation—and tireless effort to keep everyone the same page. Many publicly stated their willingness to standing with the National Team with the hashtag “#BeBoldForChange.”
It also helped that the team received an outpouring of support from 20 U.S. senators and players unions from the NHL, MLB, NBA and NFL, with reports emerging that its male counterparts were considering skipping their tournament later in the year in solidarity.
“I think that just speaks volumes on what we were asking for, and it resonated with people,” Lamoureux-Davidson said. “Our message was resonating, not just with hockey players, but athletes of both genders of all sports. Our fight... is a common fight that a lot of women battle every day. So, I think we transcended hockey. It was about sticking up for yourself, standing up for what you believe is right and doing what you can to change the current situation so the next generation can benefit.”
The emphasis on the future isn’t limited to those on the Under-18 team. For Lamoureux-Davidson and her teammates, the deal provides options for their future.
“I'm married and my husband and I would like to have a family, soon,” she said. “It changes the conversation on if I continue to play now. Before, I felt like I had to make a decision between family and hockey because it was clear that having a child and trying to play at an elite level was going to be a financial burden because of the lack of funding. As players get older, it becomes, 'Ok, do I need to get a job, do I need to get a real job, and start making a living,' or is it 'Can I do what I love to do, pursue my passion and at least live comfortably doing it.’”
“I think it's going to change the conversation for some of the older players, but for me, I'm thinking a couple of years down the road, it's going to be huge difference for me.”
With the deal in place and both sides committed to focusing on moving in a positive direction, the national team, USA Hockey and fans can turn their eyes to Plymouth, where the women have convened to get back on the ice before a tournament-opening tilt against rival Canada on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Lamoueux-Davidson, for one, expects an exciting and emotional moment, one that showcases the resiliency that got the U.S. here.
“Through a process like this, it bonds us even closer,” she said. “And the team chemistry and the trust is going to be where it never has before. At the end of the day, we want to play hockey, and we were able to get an agreement done that's really going to change our futures and change how we're able to compete and train at this level. To be able to play on Friday on home ice against Canada is going to be special.”