US women reach deal with USA Hockey, will defend world title

Hilary Knight of the US reacts after scoring a goal during their 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship final match against Canada, at Malmo Isstadion in Sweden (AFP Photo/Claudio Bresciani)

Chicago (AFP) - USA Hockey and the US Women's national team reached an agreement on Tuesday that will boost support for the women's game and avert a player boycott of the World Championships.

The deal concludes a year of efforts by the women to gain improved benefits and greater resources for women's youth hockey.

The 23 national team players gained global attention two weeks ago when they announced they would skip the worlds, which start on Friday in Plymouth, Michigan, without greater backing from the national federation.

"Today reflects everyone coming together and compromising in order to reach a resolution for the betterment of the sport," said Jim Smith, president of USA Hockey. "We'll now move forward together knowing we'll look back on this day as one of the most positive in the history of USA Hockey."

Meghan Duggan, captain of the US team, said hockey "is the big winner today."

"We stood up for what we thought was right and USA Hockey's leadership listened," she said. "In the end, both sides came together. I'm proud of my teammates and can't thank everyone who supported us enough.

"It's time now to turn the page. We can't wait to play in the World Championship later this week in front of our fans as we try and defend our gold medal."

The joint announcement of the deal on USA Hockey's website said the parties agreed to keep financial terms between them.

But it includes the formation of a Women's High Performance Advisory Group of former and current players from the US Women's National Team program, along with volunteer and staff leadership, to meet regularly to assist USA Hockey in efforts to advance girls' and women's hockey.

The federation's lack of support for girls' hockey programs was one complaint of the women players, who also sought what they called "a livable wage" along with insurance and improvements in benefits such as business travel and meal reimbursements.

Before the deal was announced, USA Hockey was reportedly soliciting potential replacement players for the world championships, but found that many even at the game's lower levels were unwilling to play as "scab" labor.

"We look forward to the future with great anticipation," said Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey. "This process has, in the end, made us better."