USA Hockey says it’ll talk to players’ lawyers about dispute

The wage dispute between the U.S. women’s hockey team and USA Hockey took another turn Friday as the two sides traded public barbs about the status of their negotiations.

USA Hockey said it is contacting players’ representatives in an effort to resolve the ongoing situation and posted the cost of players’ demands on its website. Players have threatened to boycott the upcoming world championships unless significant progress is made toward a labour deal.

In an update posted to its website Friday afternoon, USA Hockey says players’ demands would exceed $8 million total in an Olympic year and $5.7 million in a non-Olympic year. That estimates a rate of $237,000 per player for winning gold at the Olympics and $149,000 per in non-Olympic years, according to USA Hockey.

Players called that information “patently false” and said it failed to distinguish between money paid by USA Hockey and the U.S. Olympic Committee. Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson said USA Hockey’s response was confusing, and fellow star forward Hilary Knight called the valuations “funny at best.”

“We don’t know where some of those numbers came from,” Lamoureux-Davidson said by phone Friday night. “We’re very aware and clear of what we’ve asked for. … They throw out these pretty big numbers, which we read those and we go, ‘Really, we asked for that?’ We stand by our original stance and our original ask is that we’re asking for livable compensation.”

Players let a Thursday deadline imposed by USA Hockey to commit to playing pass without changing their minds. Hockey spokesman Dave Fischer said Thursday that the organization was still hopeful the players picked for the team would be on the ice when the tournament begins March 31 in Plymouth, Michigan, and that hadn’t changed as of Friday.

“We remain committed to having the players that were selected to represent the U.S. in the upcoming women’s world championship to be the players that are on the ice when the tournament begins,” USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean said.

In its update, the organization wrote: “From the outset, USA Hockey has been clear it will not employ players; however, that does not mean USA Hockey is opposed to a yearly agreement which outlines allocation of direct athlete support and other training resources that USA Hockey is willing to provide to players.”

Players have said they were paid $1,000 a month for the six-month pre-Olympic period and nothing for the other 3 1/2 years. The players’ statement said that USA Hockey’s most recent offer increased to $3,000 a month for that Olympic period but ignored their request to address the rest of the time.

“It’s frustrating because we need the support,” Knight said by phone. “There’s a reason why we haven’t won an (Olympic) gold medal in 20 years. They need to step up. Who does USA Hockey aspire to be?”

Canada has won the past four Olympic gold medals. The U.S. won the inaugural women’s hockey Olympic tournament in 1998.

Players have pointed to USA Hockey spending $3.5 million annually on the men’s U.S. National Team Development Program with no similar program for women. Knight described USA Hockey’s responses to their boycott threat dishonest and disingenuous.

“We’ve been in negotiations with them for 14 months, and our stance doesn’t change,” Knight said. “It’s 2017 and the treatment that we’ve had has gone on too long and finally we’re a group that’s empowered enough to make a stance and fight for what’s right, and that’s equitable support across the board. I’m still waiting for them to step up and present something that’s somewhat similar to a solution.”

Lamoureux-Davidson said USA Hockey reached out to players’ lawyers Friday evening. With the scheduled training camp report date set for Wednesday, she said players’ feelings have only gotten stronger since they told the organization they wouldn’t play at the world championships without progress.

“A response like that just makes us more cohesive and stronger as a group,” Lamoureux-Davidson said.” Our group is getting stronger with a response like that. We believe in what we’re asking for. We believe what we’re asking for is fair.”

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Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno .

Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press

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