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

Unsatisfied with their options, over 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 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.”

“It certainly is scary, but we do feel united,” Jenner told The Canadian Press.

“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 March 24 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 $270,000 per team for an average of $15,000 per player.

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

The NWHL said in a statement 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.

“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.”

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 last 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.

“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 or hard or when you just need someone to talk to,” Coyne Schofield said.

“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 in a women’s league while 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.

“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 stance.

“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 told The AP.

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

“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, ‘OK, where are our interests and where do we see it fitting in the future?”

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