More than 200 prominent women’s hockey players, including members of the Minnesota Whitecaps and the gold medal-winning 2018 U.S. Olympic team, announced Thursday that they will not play in the 2019-20 professional season until their demands for a single, financially stable league are met.
“We cannot make a sustainable living playing in the current state of the professional game,” players, including the Whitecaps’ Hannah Brandt and Lee Stecklein, posted in a coordinated statement on Twitter. “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.
“Because of that, together as players, we will not play in ANY professional leagues in North America this season until we get the resources that professional hockey demands and deserves.”
The move came one day after the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) officially ceased operations, leaving only the U.S.-based National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) as a North American professional option. Prominent players who suddenly were without a team when the CWHL folded included Hilary Knight, a three-time U.S. Olympian, and Canadian stars Marie-Philip Poulin and Brianne Jenner. They have joined the boycott.
Among those tweeting the statement were Brandt, Stecklein and Kendall Coyne Schofield of the Whitecaps, along with U.S. Olympic standouts Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and her twin, Monique Lamoureux-Morando.
“We may represent different teams, leagues and countries, but collectively we stand as one. #ForTheGame,” each said in retweets.
Added Brandt in an interview with the Star Tribune, “We want to put the best women’s ice hockey product on the ice for the fans, but we need the support in order to make that a reality.”
The NWHL released a statement saying it is open to discussions with its players and has offered to boost pay, among other financial considerations. NWHL salaries in its first season of 2014-15 ranged from $10,000 to $26,000 but were cut nearly 50% during the second season. The league had a $100,000 salary cap in 2018-19.
NWHL teams played a 16-game schedule this season and are slated to play 24 games in 2019-20. The league’s statement said it plans to begin its fifth season in October, noting that it offered the NWHL Players’ Association increased salaries and a 50-50 revenue split from league-level sponsorships and media rights deals.
The CWHL announced it would be folding on March 31, leaving players from its six teams looking for a place to continue their careers. Two days later, the NWHL announced it expected to add expansion teams in Montreal and Toronto for the 2019-20 season, giving it seven teams.
NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan met with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in early April and told the Star Tribune that the NHL has committed to become “one of our biggest financial sponsors.” Rylan did not reveal specifics of the arrangement.
Players had been pushing for a merger of the NWHL and CWHL before the Canadian league folded. Full financial backing from the NHL appears to be a goal of the boycott. The NHL has given financial assistance to both women’s leagues.
“We want to protect ourselves and future generations,” Brandt said. “It could mean the NHL stepping in, but any league that we feel is sustainable for the future is what we want.
“I do not know what the future holds, but we are hopeful for a partner who sees the value of the players and the value of the game.”
Two years ago, members of the U.S. women’s national team threatened to boycott the 2017 world championship and ended up getting a pay raise.
In April interviews, Bettman had a wait-and-see approach regarding the CWHL and NWHL. He did leave the door open for the NHL to fill a void.
“If there’s no opportunity for women to play professional hockey, then we would explore what would make sense or might be appropriate,” Bettman told Sportsnet. “But by the same token, I didn’t want to be presumptuous or be even bully-like and say we’re going to start a league and put them out of business. … If the NWHL is successful, great.”
The Whitecaps, an NWHL expansion team this season, were an immediate hit. They won the league championship, led the league in attendance and sold out all 10 of their games at 1,200-seat Tria Rink in St. Paul.
Brandt said sitting out the season would be difficult now but beneficial in the long term.
“It would definitely be hard. It would be so much easier not to take time off, but change is not easy, it’s hard,” she said. “If there is a year off it won’t be easy, but it will be good for the future.”
Staff writer Rachel Blount contributed to this report.