Female hockey stars boycott professional leagues

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The world’s best female hockey players are boycotting playing professionally this upcoming season “until we get the resources that professional hockey demands and deserves,” they announced on social media Thursday.

“We come together, over 200 players strong, to say it is time to create a sustainable professional league for women’s hockey,” read a statement posted by dozens of Olympic medalists. “We cannot make a sustainable living playing in the current state of the professional game.”

Players have no health insurance and make as little as $2,000 per season, they said.

“We’re not playing anywhere professionally in North America. We just want to build something better,” U.S. forward Hilary Knight said, according to The Associated Press. “Now, what that looks like could be a handful of different things. But our main purpose and goal is to promote the growth of the game and increase the visibility. But ultimately, we need the sustainability factor to make us all feel better about what we’re doing on a daily basis.”

All but three players from the U.S. Olympic champion team immediately posted the statement. The three who didn’t were its youngest players — goalie Maddie Rooney and defenders Megan Keller and Cayla Barnes — who were still collegians last season. Keller later posted it, and Rooney reposted a teammate’s post.

In the lead-up to the 2017 World Championship, the U.S. national team announced they planned to boycott the tournament if a wage dispute with USA Hockey was not resolved in time. Three days before the puck dropped, USA Hockey and the players reached an agreement that allowed for travel and insurance provisions in line with what the men’s team received.

The Canadian Women’s Hockey League, one of two leagues in North America, announced last month that it would fold effective Wednesday. The other is the National Women’s Hockey League with seven teams.

The NWHL, however, said it planned to push forward with its fifth season this October and would offer salary increases and a “50-50 revenue split from league-level sponsorships and media rights deals.”

The NWHL statement did not mention its earlier plans to expand into Toronto and Montreal next season.

The players’ decision places an emphasis on the NHL to play a larger role in women’s hockey. The NHL has provided financial support to women’s hockey, but has resisted further involvement including the possibility of sponsoring its own league.

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly noted the NWHL remains in existence, and the NHL has no intention of interfering with its business plan or objectives. Daly added he doesn’t anticipate “at this early stage” having women’s pro hockey placed on the agenda for the league’s board of governors meetings next month.

“We will further explore the situation privately before taking any affirmative position on next steps,” Daly said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Regan Smith swims another historic backstroke time at Pro Series meet

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Regan Smith, who last summer broke both backstroke world records, put up the fastest 100m back in history outside of a major international meet or trials competition on Saturday.

Smith, a 17-year-old Minnesota high school senior, clocked 58.26 seconds to win at a Pro Series meet in Knoxville, Tenn. It tied for the 12th-fastest time in history. None of the other fastest dozen came in January, six months out from when swimmers peak for the world’s biggest events like the Olympics.

Making it more impressive: Smith did it 27 minutes after finishing second in the 200m butterfly, which she’s also expected to contest at June’s Olympic trials in Omaha.

“It actually wasn’t as bad, as I was nervous it was going to be,” Smith, whose world record is 57.57, said of the double on NBCSN. Smith entered two events per day at the three-day Knoxville meet, in part to prepare for the trials, where she is slated to race six straight days in a bid to make the Olympic team in enough events to swim eight straight days in Tokyo.

On Saturday, Smith held off fellow 17-year-old Phoebe Bacon by six tenths. Bacon beat Smith at the U.S. Open in December, posting the second-fastest time among Americans in the event for 2019.

The teen emergence puts pressure on Kathleen Baker, the Rio Olympic silver medalist who had the world record before Smith took it at worlds.

Full Knoxville results are here. USASwimming.org live streams the last night of finals Sunday at 6:30 ET.

In other events Saturday, world silver medalist Hali Flickinger overcame Smith in the 200m fly, winning in 2:08.34. Smith, third-fastest among Americans last season, was .39 behind. The second-fastest American last year, Katie Drabot, was not in the field. The top two at trials make the Olympic team.

Erika Brown beat world champion Simone Manuel in a freestyle sprint for a second straight meet, taking the 50m free in 24.57 seconds.

Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, edged Manuel by .06 and took .01 off her personal best. Brown ranked third among Americans last year behind Manuel (24.05) and Abbey Weitzeil (24.47).

Brown also defeated Manuel in the 100m free at the U.S. Open in December, moving to fourth-fastest in the U.S. last year in that event. The top six in the 100m free at trials are in line to make the Olympic team, given relay spots.

MORE: Australian swim star issues plea after hometown hit by fires

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Mikaela Shiffrin nearly makes it three-way tie for World Cup win

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Mikaela Shiffrin came .01 shy of making it a three-way tie for a World Cup giant slalom win on Saturday, confirming GS has been the most up-for-grabs discipline for either gender in recent years.

Shiffrin, beaten in her last two slaloms, had the fastest second run to place third behind co-winners Italian Federica Brignone and Slovakian Petra Vlhova in Sestriere, Italy. The reigning Olympic and World Cup champion in the GS rallied from fourth place and .42 behind after the first run.

Shiffrin still leads the World Cup overall standings by 233 points over Vlhova. The American last won Dec. 29. Though she made the podium in three of her four races since, Shiffrin expressed a lack of confidence heading into this weekend’s races at the 2006 Olympic venue.

“The most exciting thing for me is that people have stopped asking me, like, are you unbeatable?” said Shiffrin, who won a record 17 World Cup races last season and has four victories nearly halfway through this season, tied with Vlhova for most on tour. “I feel really good in GS. It’s just been a long time since [the last GS on Dec. 28].”

Vlhova earned her third victory this month after beating Shiffrin those last two slaloms. Brignone leads the GS season standings by 61 points over Shiffrin, seeking to become the sixth different woman to win that discipline title in the last six years. There are four more GS races left this season.

It’s the second straight season with a World Cup GS tie. Last Feb. 1, Shiffrin and Vlhova tied in Maribor, Slovenia.

It’s the first time the top three finishers were separated by such a small margin since the last three-way tie for a win in 2006, when Lindsey VonnMichaela Dorfmeister and Nadia Styger had the same super-G time, and fourth-place Kelly VanderBeek was .01 behind.

“Last season, I had the lucky side of the hundredths many times, so sometimes I’m not going to be on the lucky side, too,” said Shiffrin, who had three victories by .16 or tighter last season.

World Cup racing continues with a parallel giant slalom on Sunday at 5:45 a.m. ET on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBC Sports Gold.

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