STEPHEN WHYNO, AP Hockey Writer
USA Hockey set a Thursday deadline for members of the women’s national team to decide whether they will play in the world championships after they threatened to boycott the tournament because of a wage dispute.
The organization has told players they have until 5 p.m. EDT to decide, USA Hockey spokesman Dave Fischer said. The tournament begins March 31 in Plymouth, Michigan, with training camp set to begin next week. The U.S. is the defending gold medalist.
The deadline comes one day after the team announced it would boycott the tournament, citing a lack of progress in getting a labor pact with USA Hockey. They are seeking more pay and a four-year deal.
USA Hockey said it will “field a competitive team” for the International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Hockey Championship, but members of the U.S. team are skeptical that will happen in the event of a boycott.
“We’re unanimously united as a player pool,” standout Hilary Knight said. “Good luck getting a suitable No. 1 competition to represent our country on a world stage. I kind of dare them. It’s tough.”
Stars such as Knight, Amanda Kessel, captain Meghan Duggan and twins Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando are leading the charge to skip the tournament. Knight thinks other players who might be asked will turn down the offer.
“If you ask older players, they’re going to say no because they’ve been through the wringer on these issues, and if you ask the younger players, unanimously they’re going to say no because they believe in what we’re doing,” Knight said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “It’ll be interesting to see who they come up with.”
After learning USA Hockey was attempting to find an alternate team, the players said “we regret that they have not instead chosen to reconsider their treatment of the current world championship-winning team.”
Several players said USA Hockey pays players $1,000 per month during their six-month Olympic residency period. Players only have contracts in Olympic years and are seeking a deal that covers them during the remaining 3 1/2 years.
Some 14 months of negotiations have gone nowhere. An attorney for the players, John Langel, called the gap a “chasm.” Players have said they won’t attend training camp next Wednesday or play in the tournament unless there are clear steps toward a four-year contract.
“This is one of the hardest decisions we’ve had to make as a team, I think, in all of our careers,” Duggan said. “Being willing to stand up and sacrifice an opportunity like that, to host a world championship on home soil, to defend a gold medal, I think it just shows how passionate we are and how serious we are.”
USA Hockey said the organization and the U.S. Olympic Committee provide national team players with financial support, training opportunities, camps and strength and conditioning programs.
“We have communicated that increased level of support to the players’ representatives and look forward to continuing our discussions,” USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean said.
USA Hockey said each player participating in the Olympics in South Korea next February could receive up to $85,000, which also includes medal incentives.
Duggan called the statement “completely misleading and dishonest,” and the law firm representing the players said no $85,000 offer was made. She added that players are also asking for insurance and travel expenses they don’t feel are provided on an equal level as men’s players.
Neither USA Hockey nor the players would reveal details of the wages in dispute or how the men’s team is compensated. The U.S. men’s team is comprised of highly paid NHL players, as are most established men’s national teams.
Canada, the world’s other women’s hockey powerhouse, puts more money into the sport in part because of government funding. Hockey Canada general manager of women’s programs Melody Davidson said development players receive $900 a month and senior-level players $1,500 a month even outside Olympic years and that players are supported full-time for nine months around the Olympics.
“We get paid for six months out of a four-year span,” said Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, who recently received a check for December Series games against Canada.
The wage dispute follows one by U.S. women’s soccer players, who last year filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that alleged wage discrimination by the U.S. Soccer Federation.
Lamoureux-Davidson said the hockey players have been in touch with soccer players about their dispute.
Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno .
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