The U.S. women’s national hockey team and USA Hockey officials broke off their meeting Monday without reaching an agreement, but members of both sides expressed optimism that they could agree to end the team’s announced boycott of the March 31-April 7 IIHF World Championships in Plymouth, Michigan.
The two sides plan to continue discussions this week in the hopes of making enough progress toward the team’s goal of higher wages and equitable support to persuade the team to report to its pre-tournament training camp that is supposed to start Wednesday.
“We had productive meetings today with players that are part of the U.S. Women’s National Team program and their representatives, and conversations will continue this week,” USA Hockey said in a statement. “Our goal remains to have the players we previously announced as the U.S. Women’s National Team be the group that represents our country at the upcoming 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship.”
“It was a long day of productive discussions,” U.S. team captain Meghan Duggan said in a phone interview with ESPN shortly after negotiations broke off for the night around 7:45 ET in Philadelphia. “The goal after leaving today is to get the players on the ice in time to prepare for the world championships, and compete in the world championships.”
Team co-captain Monique Lamoureux-Morando, who also participated in Monday’s talks, said the team will not be flying to Traverse City, Michigan, on Tuesday as scheduled, but, “We are hopeful we may be sometime after that.”
Asked what accounted for the shift in tone, Lamoureux-Morando said, “I think us really digging in and standing up for ourselves last Wednesday. Sometimes it takes drastic measures or drastic actions to be heard. But we believe that we are being heard, and that USA Hockey has heard us. I think they’ve seen the support that we’ve gained. I think this will be positive for USA Hockey moving forward. Not just the national team. I think we all agree on both sides of the table that things needed to move forward. This isn’t USA Hockey versus the national team. This is us moving forward as a program. … I think that is what really helped.”
Duggan and Lamoureux-Morando participated in the face-to-face negotiations along with eight other teammates, including Hilary Knight, Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, Kacey Bellamy and Kendall Coyne. By Duggan’s count, another 11 players participated in the talks by phone.
USA Hockey’s representatives included executive director Dave Ogrean, president Jim Smith, treasurer Donna Guariglia and director of women’s hockey Reagan Carey.
Attorneys for both sides also were present.
The team first informed USA Hockey on Wednesday that it would forgo defending its title at the world championships because of stalled progress in their talks, which began 14 months ago.
The players didn’t respond the next day to a 5 p.m. deadline the federation set for each member of the 23-player squad to declare whether she would honor the boycott.
On Friday, the two sides publicly engaged in a sharp back-and-forth over their differences and issued competing statements.
USA Hockey issued a statement that contended it had proactively increased its support, and disputed the players’ claims that they are paid only $1,000 a month for the team’s six-month residency for each Olympics and almost nothing from USA Hockey the other 3½ years between Winter Games. The organization contended, among other things, that the players are compensated far more than they claim.
“According to our calculations, the players’ demands would result in total player compensation in an Olympic year of approximately $210,000 per player if the team attains a silver medal and $237,000 for a gold medal,” USA Hockey said. “The total includes requested player compensation, per game payments, travel for a guest to every event and exhibition game, roster bonus, performance bonuses, training stipends, and benefits and payroll taxes that would be required under the proposal. … In a non-Olympic year, according to our calculations, the players’ demands would result in approximately $146,000 per player for a silver-medal performance and approximately $149,000 each for gold.”
The federation hasn’t explained how it arrived at those far higher numbers. The players called them “patently false” and “grossly misleading,” and issued a detailed rebuttal.
At least some of the discrepancy is because the federation often prefers not to specify whether the support the players receive originates from USA Hockey or the U.S. Olympic Committee, which helps fund athletes in all Olympic sports.
The hockey players say they are eligible to receive anywhere from $8,400 to $24,000 in annual stipends from the U.S. Olympic Committee, depending on their level of experience with the national team, in addition to the $6,000 they get during their Olympic year residency. They also can earn a performance bonus of $7,500 for winning a gold medal in non-Olympic years at the world championships.
The USOC paid all its athletes an additional bonus in Olympic years of $25,000 for a gold-medal win, $15,000 for a silver, and $10,000 for a bronze through the 2016 Rio Games. The USOC has decided those bonuses will increase starting with the 2018 Winter Games to $37,500 for gold, $22,000 for silver and $15,000 for bronze . The USOC also offers athletes options such as medical insurance.
USA Hockey has emphasized it is not in the business of making players “full-time employees.” Ogrean, the executive director, had repeatedly expressed hope that the players picked for the world championships will be on the ice when play begins.
After training in Traverse City, the team is scheduled to travel to Plymouth to begin the world championships with a March 31 opener against archrival Canada, the second-ranked team in the world and defending Olympic champion.
ESPN’s Craig Custance contributed to this report.