The USA women’s national hockey team held a team conference call Thursday night and voted to decline a contract counteroffer from USA Hockey, throwing their hopes of reaching a settlement back into question.
Earlier in the day, the federation also informed the team that it is reaching out to potential replacement players in case players follow through with their boycott of the world championships at the end of the month.
The players informed USA Hockey on Thursday evening that they would instead stick to the terms they and the federation discussed Monday during the 10-plus hours of face-to-face talks they held in Philadelphia in an effort to resolve their dispute over wages and the inequitable treatment the girls and women’s teams receive compared to the boys and men’s programs.
USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean had consistently called their restarted negotiations this week “productive conversations.” Ogrean reiterated that in a statement the federation sent Thursday afternoon to The Associated Press, and repeated, as he has said all along, that USA Hockey’s objective remained having the players originally selected for the team represent the U.S. at the IIHF World Championships, which begin March 31 in Plymouth, Michigan.
The sides parted after Monday’s face-to-face meeting shaking hands and talking about moving forward together to “change the culture” of the program.
USA Hockey came back to the team late Thursday afternoon with an altered proposal after failing in a vote by the federation’s executive board to get approval for some aspects of Monday’s working agreement. Several sources told ESPN.com the proposal was never put to a vote by USA Hockey’s full board of directors.
The players released a statement in response Thursday evening, shortly after their team call concluded, that read:
“[USA Hockey] made a disappointing offer that didn’t reflect the progress of the negotiations. We ask that they approve the original agreement that, the players believed, was acceptable to both parties after Monday’s meeting. Unless there is an agreement, the players remain resolved to bypass the defense of the World Championship.”
Team captain Meghan Duggan called the sea change “disappointing.”
“On Monday we were close. We certainly didn’t say we reached an official agreement or signed on the dotted line, anything like that, but we were optimistic we could get back on the ice soon,” Duggan said. “What we got today was different than Monday’s conversations.”
“I think that’s what’s disappointing, is we walked away from each other Monday and we agreed it felt good, this looks good moving forward,” co-captain Hilary Knight added. “It was actually said that we had something that would make the program forever different now, with more fairness to the women’s side. Then they come back with this? “When are we going to see that change?” Knight asked.
Despite winning seven of the last 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 the equipment, staff, meals, transportation, hotel accommodations, marketing and scheduling they receive compared even to the boys national teams at times, not just the men’s national team that’s made up of NHL players who play for the program a few weeks around major events.
The women also say they want a contract that covers the entire four-year Olympic cycle and pays them more than the $6,000 they get from USA Hockey during only the six months surrounding each Olympic Winter Games.
The rest of the team’s financial support comes from the United States Olympic Committee in the form of training stipends, performance bonuses and health insurance.
The renewed standoff is the latest twist in these 14-month talks. The team announced its boycott last Wednesday, and the two sides engaged in some public jousting on Friday about what each side was seeking.
Thursday’s switchback in negotiations came a day after the federation announced that the national team’s long scheduled, pretournament training camp in Traverse City, Michigan, was scratched. Whatever team plays in the world championships would now be asked to report directly to Plymouth before the event.
The U.S. is the defending world champion and is scheduled to play archrival Canada in its tournament opener March 31. The makeup of the team that will show up to play that game remains questionable. Duggan personally spoke to all 90-plus players in the national team pool last week, and she and several teammates continue to maintain they doubt USA Hockey would be able to muster a suitable replacement team.
In a letter sent to possible replacement players by USA Hockey director of women’s hockey Reagan Carey, the recipients were told that USA Hockey has a responsibility to explore next steps if terms are not reached with the current national team players. It was also made clear in the letter that the correspondence was not an invitation to play, but instead an inquiry only to explore what the next steps might look like. Potential replacement players, assured confidentiality, were asked to respond by 5 p.m. Friday if they were willing to compete in the upcoming world championships.
USA Hockey has said all along that the tournament would go on, regardless of whether the 23-member national team it first selected boycotted the event or not. Several sources told ESPN.com the federation is reaching out mostly to veteran college players right now, some of them women who were not selected for the national team pool of 90-plus players.
“I’d like to see what kind of team they could get,” says Team USA veteran Monique Lamoureux-Morando, a member of five world championships teams and two Olympic silver medal squads.
ESPN’s Craig Custance contributed to this report.