U.S. women’s hockey stars plan to boycott world championship

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U.S. women’s hockey stars plan to boycott the world championship tournament that starts in two weeks over wages and support.

A social-media statement read that team members will not play at worlds in Plymouth, Mich., “unless significant progress has been made on the year-long negotiations with USA Hockey over fair wages and equitable support.”

USA Hockey responded five hours later by noting its previously planned increased “level of direct support” to the women’s national team, that could result in up to $85,000 per player over the Olympic period, and saying it looked forward to continued discussions. It plans to field a team for worlds.

The players’ representatives called USA Hockey’s response “misleading.”

“It suggests that USA Hockey is prepared to pay the players $85,000 during the Olympic year,” a statement read. “That is simply not true, and no such offer was ever extended. In its public statement, USA Hockey has coupled their contributions with payments made by the U.S. Olympic Committee, which pays gold medal-winning athletes more than $60,000. Further, it covers only the Olympic period and does not offer anything for each of the other three years during which a World Championship is played. Lastly, it does nothing to address the marketing and training support that is not on par with what it provides to the mens’ and boys’ teams.”

The world championship tournament runs from March 31-April 7. The U.S. team is due to have a pre-worlds camp starting next Wednesday in Traverse City, Mich., but players are not planning to attend without meaningful progress.

“We are asking for a living wage and for USA Hockey to fully support its programs for women and girls and stop treating us like an afterthought,” U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said in a press release from the players’ law firm. “We have represented our country with dignity and deserve to be treated with fairness and respect.”

USA Hockey president Jim Smith said in a press release that it is not the organization’s job to employ athletes.

“While USA Hockey is disappointed that players from the women’s national team program have said today they do not intend to participate in the upcoming IIHF Women’s World Championship unless their financial demands are met, USA Hockey remains committed to continuing dialogue and will field a competitive team for the upcoming 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship,” USA Hockey said.

Olympic medalists including Hilary KnightAmanda Kessel and Duggan were among the players on the already-named worlds team to post the statement on their social-media accounts.

Knight and Duggan both said Wednesday that the entire national-team player pool is on board with sitting out. Duggan said the under-18 team is, too. They said players had not considered sitting out previous tournaments since hiring lawyers in 2015, hoping that negotiations would net significant change. Until now.

Knight said if it was an Olympic year rather than a worlds year, the players would sit out the Olympics unless significant progress is made. The U.S. Olympic Committee pays bonuses to Olympic medalists, including $37,500 to gold medalists and $22,500 to silver medalists.

“I think that speaks volumes, really, to the unity of our group, but also how passionate we are about standing up for equitable support,” Knight said.

Duggan wasn’t sure if players would sit out the Olympics under the current conditions.

“I mean it’s difficult to say,” Duggan said. “Obviously, that’s a bridge you cross if you get there. We’re prepared to fight for what’s right.”

Knight said she didn’t know U.S. coach Robb Stauber‘s stance. Stauber replaced Ken Klee as the U.S. coach starting with games in December.

The players’ release noted a lack of pay during non-Olympic years.

“The women seek a contract with USA Hockey that includes appropriate compensation,” the release said. “Nearly all of the players’ compensation outside of the Olympic period comes from the U.S. Olympic Committee, and for that, the players are thankful. In the past, USA Hockey has provided the players with only $1,000 per month during the six-month Olympic residency period. During the remainder of the four-year period, USA Hockey pays virtually nothing, despite its expectation that in each of the non-Olympic years, the players train full time and compete throughout the year, including in the World Championships. Approximately half of the players on the Women’s National Team hold second or third jobs, and many others rely on financial support from family members.”

USA Hockey detailed its already planned support leading up to the 2018 Olympics, including “a six-month training camp, additional support stipends and incentives for medals that could result in each player receiving nearly $85,000 in cash over the Olympic training and performance period. The sum is in addition to a housing allowance, travel allowances, meal expenses, medical and disability insurance and the infrastructure that includes elite-level support staff to train and prepare the players.”

The U.S. women’s hockey team has won three straight world titles. In Plymouth, it could go for its first-ever streak of four world titles and its first world title on home ice.

The U.S. took gold in women’s hockey’s debut at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games, then silver in 2002, bronze in 2006 and silver in 2010 and 2014.

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MORE: Kessel becomes highest-paid player in NWHL

Olympic ski cross champion suffers serious knee injury

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Canadian Marielle Thompson, the reigning Olympic and World Cup ski cross champion, ruptured an ACL and MCL in a training crash in Switzerland.

Alpine Canada did not say when the accident happened or what Thompson’s chances are of returning to defend her Olympic title in PyeongChang.

Thompson flew from Switzerland to Vancouver for an MRI that confirmed the injury.

“I’ll be making a plan with my team moving forward and when the time is right getting back on the ski cross course stronger than ever,” Thompson said in a press release.

Thompson, 25, tore a meniscus in January 2015 and returned to competition 11 months later. She won seven of the 13 World Cup races last season.

Other Olympic medal contenders include Swede Sandra Näslund and Swiss Fanny Smith.

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Nathan Chen leads Yuzuru Hanyu at Grand Prix opener (video)

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U.S. champion Nathan Chen hopes to become comfortable in this spot this season — ahead of reigning Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu in the standings.

The 18-year-old Chen landed two quadruple jumps in his short program at the opening Grand Prix event in Moscow, taking a 5.69-point lead over Hanyu going into Saturday’s free skate.

Two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia topped the women’s short program with 80.75 points (one tenth off her world record).

Full Rostelecom Cup results are here.

Chen’s tally — 100.54 points — is the second-highest short of his flourishing international career. It would have been higher if not for two of his three jumping passes receiving negative grades of execution for wonky landings.

The Japanese megastar Hanyu fell on his final jump, a triple toe loop, on Friday. No matter, Winnie the Pooh bears rained down on the ice from the adoring crowd, many of whom traveled from Japan.

Hanyu scored 94.85 points, one month after breaking his world record short program score with 112.72 points in a small event in Canada.

“Today I made some mistakes in my short program, but overall it didn’t feel bad,” Hanyu said, according to the International Skating Union.

Hanyu, though he is the current PyeongChang favorite, has never won his season-opening Grand Prix event in seven tries.

Chen has now outscored Hanyu, who is four years older, in four of their last eight head-to-head skates.

Hanyu was better in the two biggest programs at last season’s world championships. Chen placed sixth at worlds in April, perhaps gassed at the end of his first senior season while competing on duct-taped skates.

In the women’s standings, Medvedeva topped Olympic bronze medalist Carolina Kostner of Italy by 6.13 points.

American Mirai Nagasu landed a triple Axel that was called under rotated and fell on her other two jumping passes. She ended up ninth, two spots behind U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell.

In the short dance, two-time world medalists and U.S. champions Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani tallied 77.30 points.

The siblings lead by .97 over Russians Yekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Soloviyev going into the free dance.

Russians are one-two in pairs. World bronze medalists Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov lead Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov by 5.49.

All of the free skates are Saturday, live on Olympic Channel. A full schedule is here.

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Rostelecom Cup
Men’s Short
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 100.54
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 94.85
3. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.77
11. Grant Hochstein (USA) — 67.56

Women’s Short
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 80.75
2. Carolina Kostner (ITA) — 74.64
3. Wakaba Higuchi (JPN) — 69.60
7. Mariah Bell (USA) — 63.85
9. Mirai Nagasu (USA) — 56.15

Short Dance
1. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 77.30
2. Yekaterina Bobrova/Dmitry Soloviyev (RUS) — 76.33
3. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 71.32
7. Rachel Parsons/Michael Parsons (USA) — 59.41

Pairs Short
1. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 76.88
2. Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov (RUS) — 71.39
3. Valentina Marchei/Ondřej Hotárek (ITA) — 68.48
7. Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran (USA) — 54.37