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U.S. Women's National Hockey Team players threaten to boycott World Championship

Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson celebrates a goal with her USA teammates during an exhibition game in Grand Forks before the 2014 Sochi Games.

Players on the U.S. Women's National Hockey Team informed USA Hockey on Wednesday that they will boycott the IIHF Women's World Championship later this month if adequate progress is not made in their negotiations for better wages and support.

The players say they've been attempting to negotiate a contract with USA Hockey for more than a year with no significant progress.

The Women's World Championship -- the sport's most prestigious event outside of the Olympic Games -- begins March 31 in Plymouth, Mich. Players are scheduled to arrive Tuesday for camp.

The Americans have won gold in six of the last seven Women's World Championships.

Among the 23 players on the U.S. roster are Grand Forks natives and two-time Olympic silver medalists Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Warroad’s Gigi Marvin.

“We hope that, in 20 years, we change the landscape for women’s hockey players so they don’t have to fight this fight,” Lamoureux-Davidson said. “We hope they have more than what we currently have.”

USA Hockey pays the Women's National Team $1,000 monthly training stipends for six months during the Olympic centralization period.

Outside of that, the players say their only National Team-related income is from the U.S. Olympic Committee, which pays between $750 and $2,000 monthly depending on the individual player.

The players are asking for a four-year contract with USA Hockey.

USA Hockey said in a statement that it is not in the business of employing hockey players and it doesn’t plan to start.

“In our role as the national governing body, USA Hockey trains and selects teams for international competition,” USA Hockey President Jim Smith said. “USA Hockey’s role is not to employ athletes and we will not do so. USA Hockey will continue to provide world-leading support for our athletes.”

USA Hockey said that men’s players do not get paid for participation in the Men’s World Championship or the Olympic Games, but they can earn the same prize money based on their finishes at the events as the women.

USA Hockey also said in a statement that the women’s players could earn up to $85,000 through stipends and medal incentives during the Olympic cycle, but the players say that figure is misleading because it assumes a gold medal and discounts the other three-and-a-half years out of a four-year Olympic cycle.

“It is extremely disheartening that USAH is misleading people into thinking they pay us $85,000,” Lamoureux-Morando said in a statement. “During that six months, they would pay us about $20,000, and the rest would come from the USOC. They also continue to disregard that they pay us $0 during three-and-a-half of the other four years.”

The players are being represented pro bono by Philadelphia-based lawyers John Langel and Dee Spagnuolo of Ballard Spahr. Langel represented U.S. women's soccer players for more than a decade.

In addition to wages, the players are also asking for more support in training and marketing.

A news release from Langel and Spagnuolo mentioned that USA Hockey spends $3.5 million on the U.S. National Team Development Program, an elite training program for the top 17- and 18-year-old male players in the country. There is no similar program for female players.

Players are also asking for a better game schedule and to play in more NHL buildings.

“It is hard to believe that, in 2017, we still have to fight so hard for basic equitable support,” Lamoureux-Morando said. “But when I think about the women who paved the way for our team -- and when I see girls at rinks around the country who are dedicated to pursuing big dreams and look to us to lead by example -- it’s well overdue for us to speak up about unfair treatment, even if it means sacrificing an opportunity to represent our country. We owe the next generation more than that. We owe it to ourselves to stand up for what is right.”

The women’s team was supported by many prominent figures, including women’s hockey pioneers Cammi Granato of the United States and Cassie Campbell of Canada.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., also tweeted her support: “Great to see US Women’s National Hockey Team, including two talented North Dakotans, stand up for what’s right.”

USA Hockey countered the claims of a lack of commitment in a statement, saying, “USA Hockey has a long-standing commitment to the support, advancement and growth of girls and women’s hockey and any claims to the contrary are unfounded.”

USA Hockey points to the increase of participation numbers from 23,000 in 1998 to more than 73,000 today and the country’s success on the world stage as evidence of its support.

Financial challenges for players who have graduated from college and still seek to play at an elite level has been an issue for women's hockey players as long as the sport has been around.

Many post-grad players -- 18 of the 23 on the current Women’s World Championship roster are no longer in college -- hold down regular jobs while training to stay at elite levels.

The Lamoureux twins work at Altru as performance specialists.

“We’re fortunate because we can get free ice time at The Ralph,” said Lamoureux-Davidson, who also noted that they get free strength and conditioning training from her brother-in-law, Anthony Morando.

Beginning last year, some players joined the startup NWHL, though that league has been financially strapped. Players were asked this season to take significant pay cuts from their league salaries, which ranged from $10,000 to $26,000.

Thirteen players on the Women's World Championship roster won silver medals with the 2014 Olympic team -- the Lamoureux twins, Kacey Bellamy, Megan Bozek, Warroad's Marvin, Lee Stecklein, Alex Carpenter, Kendall Coyne, Brianna Decker, Meghan Duggan, Amanda Kessel, Hilary Knight and Kelli Stack.

This year's Women's World Championship -- which will be held in the United States for just the second time since 2001 -- is the final world tournament before the 2018 Olympic Games.

It was last in the United States in 2012, when Burlington, Vt., served as the host. The Americans got the silver that year.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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