USA Hockey officials on Wednesday indicated it may field a team of replacement players at the upcoming International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championship should members of the current women’s national team continue their boycott over fair pay issues.
The federation just took another step toward the possibility of sending a replacement team to the event, setting a firm deadline of 5 p.m. Eastern Time Thursday for players to decide if they intended to play. The federation is also surveying individual players to assess their intentions, according to USA Today, which first reported the deadline.
But current team members say they’re committed to skipping the tournament unless there is “significant progress” in negotiations with USA Hockey around compensation and other forms of financial support.
And on Thursday, they told The Huffington Post that their entire player pool is on board with the fight ― including members of the youth teams.
“We said this yesterday that this isn’t just the women’s national team, this is the entire player pool,” said Monique Lamoureux, a forward on the national team. “USA Hockey might be thinking we were bluffing on that but that is totally true. We’ve been in contact with every player in the pool, and we have the support of all the players.”
“It’s really disheartening that USA Hockey has decided to try to field an alternative team instead of negotiating with its national team,” she added. “It’s a sad day when that happens.”
Her comments echoed a statement the team issued through its lawyers Thursday morning.
“We have heard that USA Hockey is attempting to field an alternative team to play in the World Championship games,” the statement reads. “We regret that they have not instead chosen to reconsider their treatment of the current World Championship-winning team. We stand by our original position: that it is time USA Hockey supported its programs for women and girls at the level it provides to boys and men. And we are grateful for the support we’ve received from across the world for our stance on this subject.”
After more than a year of private negotiations, the team’s dispute with USA Hockey exploded into a public fight Wednesday, when the players aired details of the dispute in a release that announced their intention to skip the tournament.
USA Hockey currently provides them only with small, $1,000-per-month stipends during a six-month Olympic training period, according to the players. It does not pay them during the other three-and-a-half years of each Olympic cycle, the team said. Most their pay comes from the U.S. Olympic Committee, according to the players ― and more than half of the squad also holds jobs outside of hockey.
The players were also critical of USA Hockey’s programs for girls, saying that the federation’s investments in the youth development paled in comparison to the money and support it gives to boys and men.
USA Hockey responded Wednesday in a statement that indicated it would not bend, even amid the possibility of missing the tournament. The federation said it had increased compensation, investment and other forms of support for the women’s game ― claims the team called “misleading.”
The team’s fight received considerable public support on social media from lawmakers, former U.S. women’s hockey players, and members of the U.S. women’s national soccer team, who have spent the past year battling their own federation for equal pay.
Members of the women’s hockey team said they hoped they would reach an agreement with the national governing body that both sides found palatable in time for them to play at the World Championship in Plymouth, Michigan. Team USA is the defending champion at the tournament, which begins March 31. It has won six of the past eight gold medals.
“We want to play,” team captain Meghan Duggan told HuffPost on Wednesday. “We want this to get resolved. We want to come to an agreement that USA Hockey and ourselves can both be on board with.”
But the public sparring between the two sides, and news of Thursday’s looming deadline, suggests that such an agreement is becoming increasingly unlikely.
As for what might happen after the 5 p.m. deadline, Lamoureux said, “USA Hockey has not contacted us or our lawyers to negotiate. The ball’s in their court.”