Getty Images

USA Hockey, women’s national team strike deal, avoid worlds boycott


USA Hockey and the women’s national team reached an agreement to end a wage dispute and avoid a boycott of the world championship 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, Mich. 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.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Stanley Cup-winning goalie joins U.S. women’s coaching staff

Alina Zagitova eyes more gold at worlds; women’s preview

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Alina Zagitova hasn’t lost internationally in 18 months, and that doesn’t figure to change this week at the world championships in Milan.

The 15-year-old Russian is favored to become the youngest world gold medalist since Tara Lipinski (duplicating her feat from the Olympics) and make it five straight Olympic or world titles for Russian women, the longest streak for one country since American Carol Heiss won six straight Olympic/world titles from 1956 through 1960.

Zagitova would also become the first Olympic women’s champion to win worlds the following month since Kristi Yamaguchi in 1992. That’s largely because Olympic champions usually skip worlds in Olympic years. Since Yamaguchi, the only one to compete was Yuna Kim, who grabbed silver in 2010.

Zagitova may be young, but she may not have the longevity of Kim to make it to a second Olympics. Russia turns over a new class of elite women’s skaters every year.

Two weeks ago, 13-year-old Alexandra Trusova won the world junior title as the first woman to land two different quadruple jumps in one program. Trusova isn’t old enough to compete at the senior worlds until 2020.

Zagitova’s current rival and training partner, Olympic silver medalist and 2016 and 2017 World champion Yevgenia Medvedeva, withdrew from worlds due to injury.

WORLDS: TV Schedule | Pairs Preview | Nagasu’s Outlook

Which leaves the last two Olympic bronze medalists, Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada and Carolina Kostner of Italy, plus PyeongChang fourth-place finisher Satoko Miyahara of Japan as the top challengers this week.

None finished within seven points of Zagitova at any competition this season, the Russian’s first on the senior international level.

Zagitova set herself apart at the Olympics by putting all of her jumps in the second half of her programs for 10 percent bonuses and landing them all with positive grades of execution.

The U.S. contingent includes national champion Bradie Tennell, two-time Olympian Mirai Nagasu and Mariah Bell (replacement for 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen).

It is the end of a challenging season for U.S. women. In the autumn, none qualified for the Grand Prix Final for a second straight year (after at least one had done so each of the previous seven seasons).

In PyeongChang, no U.S. woman finished in the top six for the first time in Winter Games history. Tennell, who emerged this season after placing ninth at 2017 Nationals, was the top U.S. Olympic finisher in ninth.

Tennell goes into worlds as the top seeded American — seventh — by best international scores this season.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Best figure skating moments from PyeongChang

Olympic golf qualifying, format largely unchanged for 2020

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic golf tournaments qualifying and format will remain largely the same as they were for the sport’s return to the Games in 2016, according to Golf Channel, citing a memo sent to PGA Tour players.

The format will again be four rounds of stroke play with 60 men and 60 women taken from the world rankings, according to the report.

The qualifying window to determine the rankings will be July 1, 2018 to June 22, 2020 for men and July 8, 2018 to June 29, 2020 for women. That’s a slight change, as for 2016 the dates were the same for men and women.

The 2016 process saw a maximum of two men and two women per country, or up to four if they were ranked in the top 15.

Then-PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said one month after the Rio Games that he hoped the Olympic golf format would be changed to have more medals awarded.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Michael Phelps lost money to Barack Obama in golf, actor says