(AP) - By STEPHEN WHYNO
AP Hockey Writer
USA Hockey and the women's national team reached an agreement to end a wage dispute and avoid a boycott of the world championships on home ice that would've been a black eye for the sport.
Players and USA Hockey finalized the deal Tuesday night and announced it in a joint statement just three days before the tournament begins in Plymouth, Michigan. It's a four-year agreement that pays players beyond just the six-month Olympic period.
"It's going to be a turning point for women's hockey in the U.S. (and) I feel like a turning point for women's hockey in the world," star forward Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson said by phone. "There was compromises on both sides, but the contract in its entirety, it's going to change the lives of the current players that are on the team right now but (also) for the next generation."
Captain Meghan Duggan called it a "historic moment in women's sports." USA Hockey president Jim Smith said people will look back on this day "as one of the most positive in the history" of the organization.
Before this agreement, players said they were paid $1,000 a month around the Olympics, and the new contract is believed to be worth about $3,000 to $4,000 per player per month. Combined with money received from the U.S. Olympic committee, each player could surpass $70,000 in annual earnings, and that number could reach $129,000 in 2018 if the team wins the Olympic gold medal.
Players also received business-class travel, just like the men's team, and insurance protection they asked for.
"I'm very relieved and I'm very positive about the outcome, and I think the women are, too," USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean said by phone. "Clearly, we wanted to get this behind us, and we're very excited about having the team in Michigan to put on the jerseys that are their jerseys and to defend their world championship starting Friday night."
Star forward Hilary Knight called it an "arrangement that will have a positive and lasting impact." Duggan said the deal was "the best there is" for the present and future.
After more than a year of negotiations over wages and equitable support, players announced March 15 that they'd boycott the International Ice Hockey Federation Women's World Championship if significant progress wasn't made toward an agreement. The sides met for 10-plus hours in person last week and continued conversations before striking a deal Tuesday.
Duggan said she was concerned about not being on the ice to begin the tournament.
"That was a reality from Day One," Duggan said by phone. "We put that on the line and we made a promise to ourselves that until we reached an agreement that we thought was acceptable and we had made progress, that was a realization that maybe we wouldn't be there."
Over the course of the public dispute, unions from the NHL, NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball and 16 U.S. senators voiced support for the players. NHL agent Allan Walsh tweeted that men's players were considering boycotting their world championship in solidarity if a deal didn't get done.
It took until almost the last minute, but a deal did get done that includes the formation of a women's high performance advisory group with current and former players - like Hockey Canada has had for some time. The group's goal is to advance girl's and women's hockey programing, marketing, promotion and fundraising to augment existing grassroots programs.
Canadian women's general manager Melody Davidson congratulated the U.S. team and USA Hockey "on reaching an agreement that will allow the world championship tournament to be a best-on-best showcase."
Players are set to travel to Plymouth on Wednesday and open the defense of their gold medal Friday against Canada. The team's first practice is Wednesday.
"Even though this has been going on for two weeks, we've all still been preparing - working out, training, skating and doing what we need to do to be ready to go," Lamoureux-Davidson said. "We'll be all ready to go. I'm not worried about that one bit."
The U.S. has won six of the past eight world championships, but this deal was not just about one tournament. The goal is stabilizing the relationship between USA Hockey and the women's national team moving forward.
"That's the crux of the whole deal," Ogrean said. "I think there are a lot of things in this agreement other than financial that were important to the women in terms of kind of laying the foundation or building the framework for the women's program for the years ahead and particularly the next four years of this agreement."
Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno.