Women’s players decline inquiry from USA Hockey about worlds

Two players told The Associated Press on Friday they had declined an inquiry from USA Hockey to replace members of the women’s national team at the upcoming world championships.

Brittany Ott, a goaltender for the Boston Pride of the National Women’s Hockey League, and Annie Pankowski, a junior forward at the University of Wisconsin, said USA Hockey reached out to them to gauge their interest in filling in at the International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championship that begins next week in Plymouth, Michigan. The players said the email from USA Hockey was not an invitation but rather an inquiry about their availability and they said no.

“I responded to that email and I said I’m not willing,” Pankowski said.

The U.S. women’s national team has said it plans to boycott the world championships over a wage dispute with USA Hockey, which confirmed Thursday it would begin reaching out to potential replacement players. Several players posted messages on social media saying they support the national team and would decline or have declined any outreach from USA Hockey.

“From a personal standpoint I have never been invited to a USA Hockey series or camp or anything like that and I would honestly love to be invited to something like that,” Ott said by phone. “However at the current time, this is a fight that I believe in and I’m definitely going to stand up and help fight as much as I can.”

Many players posted a version of a Jerry Rice quote on Twitter on Friday: “Today I will do what others won’t so tomorrow I can do what others can’t. I said no to USAH & will not play in the 2017WC.” Not all players who tweeted that message were asked by USA Hockey if they could play.

Players are seeking a four-year contract that includes payments outside the six-month Olympic period. The sides met in person for 10-plus hours Monday, but players have called USA Hockey’s counterproposal “disappointing.”

USA Hockey said Thursday in a statement that it was still its priority to have the players it selected for the national team be on the ice next Friday when the tournament begins. But the organization added that it informed players’ representatives it would begin reaching out to potential replacement players with the tournament coming up.

Star national team forward Hilary Knight said last week she wished USA Hockey luck putting together a suitable team of replacement players to defend the gold medal because the player pool was united in the dispute. Ott and Pankowski said they had not heard from any players expressing a willingness to play in worlds.

“It’s a very unified front,” Ott said. “It’s a tight-knit community that we have in women’s hockey here. This is definitely a big opportunity for us to make a big change and have a big impact on our sport and have it grow. We’re all standing together.”

On Friday, unions representing NHL and Major League Baseball players posted messages in support of the players.

The NHL Players’ Association posted a note on its Twitter account saying it supports players while panning USA Hockey’s bid to stock the team with replacements. The NHLPA says the decision to go with replacement players “would only serve to make relations, now and in the future, much worse.”

Earlier in the day, the MLB Players Association encouraged all women’s hockey players to stand united behind their national team colleagues.