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Hockey Women’s hockey stars lead walkout in bid for a stronger professional league

Hilary Knight, of the gold medal winning U.S. women's Olympic hockey team, attends a SheBelieves Cup women's soccer match between the US and France, in Harrison, N.J. on March 4, 2018.

Steve Luciano/The Associated Press

Unsatisfied with their options, more than 200 women say they will not play in a North American hockey league until they get the league they want.

Players from both the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, which shut down on Wednesday, and the U.S.-based NWHL have joined the walkout.

Marie-Philip Poulin, Kendall Coyne Schofield, Hilary Knight, Shannon Szabados, Amanda Kessel, Brianna Decker, Brianne Jenner and Noora Raty were among the game’s stars posting identical statements on social media Thursday, declaring “we will not play in ANY professional leagues in North America this season until we get the resources that professional hockey demands and deserves.”

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“It certainly is scary, but we do feel united,” Jenner said.

“There’s over 200 players that are standing with us here. We really believe in why we’re doing this. We believe in our why, so I think that takes a little bit of the fear out of it and makes us hopeful for the future.”

When the six-team CWHL announced on March 24 that it would fold, the five-team NWHL announced plans to expand to both Montreal and Toronto.

When the NWHL arrived in 2015, it announced a salary cap of US$270,000 per team for an average of US$15,000 a player.

But the league slashed salaries by up to half the next year as a cost-cutting measure. NWHL teams played 16 regular-season games in 2018-19.

The NWHL said in a statement on Thursday: “We are offering increased salaries and a 50-50 revenue split from league-level sponsorships and media rights deals.”

Many players have indicated a lack of faith in the NWHL, however, with their refusal to play in it.

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“We want to play in a league that has a sustainable long-term, viable business model,” Coyne Schofield said. “Right now, we don’t feel that option is available for players to play in North America.”

With the ability to stock its rosters compromised, the NWHL nevertheless intends to play a fifth season, saying it “respects the wishes of all players to consider their options, and they know we are always available to meet, to participate in open communication addressing their concerns and exchanging ideas, and to collaborate with the players on one league.”

A week after Jenner’s Calgary Inferno hoisted the Clarkson Cup, the CWHL announced it would shut down after 12 years because it was “economically unsustainable.”

The non-profit league paid players between $2,000 and $10,000 the past two years in a 28-game regular season.

“If you look at the league right now, the base salary is two thousand dollars,” Jenner said. “Especially those players who are non-national team players, they deserve better.

“My teammates on the Calgary Inferno, it wasn’t until this year they had access to a gym.

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“That’s fleeting, because it’s based on one sponsor agreeing to cover that. There’s so many things we want to see improved and we think this is our opportunity and our time to demand more.”

Players said in the statement, accompanied by the hashtag #ForTheGame, they could not make a sustainable living in the current state of the professional game.

“Having no health insurance and making as low as two thousand dollars a season means players can’t adequately train and prepare to play at the highest level,” the statement said.

The collective action comes two years after the U.S. women’s team threatened to boycott the world championship in Plymouth, Mich., unless USA Hockey provided more financial compensation and competitive opportunities.

With the support of 100 players in the national team pool, the American women won concessions from their federation and participated in the championship.

“They’re two different things, but the players that went through that have a little bit of experience for what it means to stand together, to be there for each other when times are hard or when you just need someone to talk to,” Coyne Schofield said.

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“This movement is going to impact the game forever all across the world. Our situation in 2017 did, but this is bigger than that.

“Together, we can move mountains and we’re going to.”

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has stated that league isn’t interested in an ownership role while women’s leagues were already operating.

He’s also been critical of the business models of both the CWHL and NWHL.

In an recent interview with The Associated Press, Bettman pointed to the CWHL ceasing operations as something that “proved the point that we have genuine concerns about sustainable models.”

“What we’ve repeatedly said is if there turns out to be a void – and we don’t wish that on anybody – then we’ll look at the possibilities and we’ll study what might be appropriate,” Bettman added.

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“But at the end of the day, we’re not looking to put anybody out of business. And if the NWHL can make a go of it, we wish them good luck.”

The hockey apparel and equipment company Bauer weighed in on the NHL’s non-ownership stand.

“I believe that in order to develop a long-term, viable women’s professional hockey program, the National Hockey League must be in an ownership position,” Bauer vice-president of global marketing Mary-Kay Messier wrote in a statement.

“It’s not just about financial support. It’s about a long-term vision and the required resources, including the expertise, to effectively promote the women’s game.”

Hockey Canada and USA Hockey must also help develop a women’s league, CWHL Players’ Association co-chair Liz Knox said.

“Take a look in the mirror, Hockey Canada and USA Hockey.”

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“I mean, these are your players who are winning you Olympic medals saying, ‘We’re just not getting enough right now.’ … I would certainly hope it’s a moment for them to self-reflect and say, ’Okay, where are our interests and where do we see it fitting in the future?' ” Knox added.

With reports from The Associated Press

Calgary celebrates Inferno’s championship season as the CWHL shuts down

Players demand say in future of women’s hockey in Canada, U.S., after CWHL folds

Opinion: Women’s sport needs time to carve out a niche. The CWHL didn’t get a fair shot

Canada goaltender Shannon Szabados watches as U.S. players celebrate a win during the Four Nations Cup hockey gold-medal game in Saskatoon, Sask. on Nov. 10, 2018.

The Canadian Press

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