U.S. women, USA Hockey talks: Where things stand

As the U.S. women’s national hockey team and USA Hockey officials continue their negotiations under the team’s looming boycott of the March 31-April 7 IIHF World Championships, here is what we know and don’t know so far from the talks:

Who are the key players involved on both sides?

The United States Olympic Committee has stayed out of this negotiation. Right now, it’s completely a discussion between USA Hockey and the women’s national team.

USA Hockey was represented by executive director Dave Ogrean, president Jim Smith, treasurer Donna Guariglia and director of women’s hockey Reagan Carey at Monday’s negotiation session.

Ogrean has been the executive director for USA Hockey since 2005 and is currently serving his second stint in that position. He also served in that role from 1993-99. He’s retiring in August, so any deal struck or not struck with the women’s team will go a long way in defining a legacy that includes overseeing strong growth in youth hockey participation and implementation of the American development model, among other accomplishments.

On some level, Carey is stuck in the middle of the fight. She has long been a strong proponent of women’s hockey and has worked closely with the women on the other side of the table in their development.

There were 10 players present at Monday’s negotiation session and another 11 on the phone. A player like captain Meghan Duggan, a 29-year-old forward who has taken a very vocal and prominent role in this fight, risks losing one of the final opportunities she has to represent the country.

“How many more years do I have in this program? Who knows?” Duggan said. “It’s about all of us.”

Attorney John Langel represents the women. His ties in the battle for equitable treatment for women’s hockey players goes back nearly 20 years when he first spoke with Hall of Famer Cammi Granato about the cause.

He represented the U.S. women’s soccer team when it sought better wages and sees similarities between the two sports, in both the arguments coming from the other side and the potential for growth.

“Soccer learned if you supported it from the highest level, it would filter down to the grass roots,” Langel said. “You can’t ignore the women players and the icons they are to hockey girls. They’re icons to that community.”

What are the biggest issues players have in terms of inequality and wages?

Despite winning seven of the past nine world championships and never failing to win a medal at the Olympics, the women players say they’ve been frustrated by longstanding inequities in equipment, staff, meals, transportation, hotel accommodations, marketing and scheduling compared with the men’s national team (which is made up of NHL players who play for the program a few weeks around major events) and junior/boys national teams.

Two of the many examples the women players have cited: They play only nine games in non-Olympic years, whereas the boys’ 17- and 18-year-old teams play 60-game schedules. Also, in 2016-17, USA Hockey funneled $ 3.4 million to its boy’s developmental program and another $ 1.4 million into the USHL, its top league for boys ages 16 to 20, according to minutes from the federation’s 2017 Winter Meeting, but “virtually nothing” to its girls programs.

The women also want more financial support from USA Hockey. The federation currently pays the national team $ 6,000 for its six-month training residency in Olympic years. Beyond that? The remainder of the players’ earnings originate from the U.S. Olympic Committee, which provides athletes in all sports with performance bonuses for Olympic and world championship medals. The USOC also awards training stipends in non-Olympic years that range from $ 8,500 to $ 24,000 per player, depending on a player’s accomplishments.

The players are seeking a contract with the federation that pays them something the entire four-year Olympic cycle. Roughly half of the national team players currently hold second and third jobs to be able to train full time and compete. Some play in men’s rec leagues to stay sharp.

Why did the players decide to boycott now?

The players have emphasized they purposely began contract talks with USA Hockey 14 months ago with the expectation that the discussions would be long and challenging, given the landscape-changing agreement they want. The players add that they aren’t sure if their treatment by federation officials is a result of systemic sexism or simply engrained habit and benign neglect — women’s hockey wasn’t on the Winter Olympic program until the 1998 Nagano Games — but they want it to change.

“In June of last year we laid out an outline of things the players wanted, and now we’re 10 months later, and almost none of those things have been addressed — that’s what’s disheartening about this situation,” Monique Lamoureux-Morando, a member of the players’ negotiating team, said last Wednesday when the boycott was announced. “We’re being put in a situation where we’re not being heard and not being listened to.”

The players believed they had gotten to the point where change would not happen without exercising the best leverage they have: refusing to play. Several sources told ESPN.com that USA Hockey officials weren’t totally surprised — they had discussed the boycott scenario internally for weeks — but that they also didn’t believe the players would go through with it.

“All of us consider it an honor to represent our country,” Duggan said. “None of us wanted this to come to this.”

Why is this year’s World Championships so important?

In 2015, the USA Hockey Foundation purchased Compuware Arena in Plymouth, Michigan, renamed it USA Hockey Arena and moved the men’s National Team Development Program from Ann Arbor to Plymouth. They’ve invested millions in upgrades and this was an opportunity to show it off with the major international event, which begins March 31.

It’s the first time the worlds have been held in the United States since 2012, when the World Championships were in Burlington, Vermont, so it’s a major opportunity to grow women’s hockey in the country.

But perhaps most important are the Olympic implications. This tournament is viewed as the ramp up toward the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

There are three players set to represent the U.S. national team for the first time at worlds: goalie Maddie Rooney, defenseman Kali Flanagan and forward Kelly Pannek. Each is looking to make a positive early impression before the Olympics.

Prominent former Olympians Amanda Kessel and Gigi Marvin are back on the roster after missing a couple of tournaments, and head coach Robb Stauber, who was an assistant in the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, would just about lock up a head job in the Olympics with a worlds gold medal.

A boycott that impacts these World Championships also impacts the team’s chances in the 2018 Olympics.

What happens if a resolution isn’t reached before the tournament?

USA Hockey maintained as late as Monday that the World Championships would go on as scheduled March 31-April 7 and that it would send a replacement team. The federation has never said where those players would come from.

The women’s national team has expressed strong skepticism the federation could put together a team. The 23-member squad said it not only remains united, but it has also marshaled the support of the remaining 90-plus college, post-college and youth-team players in the national-team pool. Each player was contacted personally by Duggan last Thursday. Duggan predicted no player would break the boycott if the team and federation can’t reach a settlement.

If an agreement is not reached this week — and that would take approval by USA Hockey’s 92-member voting board to the terms the federation and players side hammered out in all-day talks Monday — it seems highly unlikely the two sides would return to the bargaining table in time for the World Championships, because the team has said all along it would boycott without significant progress toward a new contract.

Going forward, the team could opt to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The U.S. women’s national soccer team did that last year in its equity fight with its federation.

How does USA Hockey’s guidelines for the women’s team compare with those of Team Canada, since together they’ve combined to win every Olympic gold medal and world championship awarded?

It’s not perfect in Canada, but Hockey Canada has taken steps in recent years to help with equality through federal funding and partnerships with high-profiles sponsors such as Molson Coors.

“When I started, we didn’t even have a [under-18] program. Now, to see the way Hockey Canada has developed and created a path to the national team for the young ladies — Hockey Canada is world-leading,” said Tessa Bonhomme, an Olympic gold medalist for Team Canada. “They set the standard in all that.”

The Athlete Assistance Program, run by Sport Canada, puts athletes on carding lists that help provide provisions for living expenses, training allowances and tuition expenses. According to Bonhomme, the provisions in an Olympic year are strong, but it’s still a struggle in non-Olympic years for many of the women hockey players.

“A lot of the girls are lucky,” she said. “We find trainers who are happy to bring us in the gym and train us with the NHL guys for free. If that’s not the case, Hockey Canada does fork out the cash to pay for our trainer as long as we’re in groups.”

Hockey Canada also formed the Women’s High Performance Advisory Committee, made up of five athletes who help identify issues and ideas for the players and share them with Hockey Canada.

The Ladies First Hockey Foundation was formed before the 2006 Winter Olympics to help Canadian women hockey players and their families with the financial hardships that come with being an Olympic athlete. The foundation has helped raise $ 1.75 million to help the players and their families.

According to the Canadian Press, Hockey Canada pays the women’s hockey team $ 1,500 per month, with an additional $ 2,500 per month for full-time training before the Winter Olympics.

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