CALGARY — The Canadian women’s hockey team can only watch and wait to see if they’ll play chief rival United States in the world championship on American ice.
The U.S. women declared Wednesday they’ll boycott the world championship starting March 31 in Plymouth, Mich., unless progress is made settling a wage dispute with USA Hockey.
American players say they will not report next Wednesday to their training camp next week in Taverse City, Mich, without steps towards a new contract.
A few hours after that bombshell dropped, Canadian players on a conference call were still trying to get their heads around the possibility the host country and defending champion could be absent from the biggest women’s hockey tournament this calendar year.
"It is difficult to imagine," said defenceman Lauriane Rougeau of Beaconsfield, Que. "But we respect their decision.
"We hope they’re moving towards a positive agreement in the coming days, so that we would be able to have a good championship."
Canada is scheduled to open the tournament against the U.S. on March 31.
Canada and the U.S. have met in every world championship final dating back to the first in 1990. The Americans have won three straight titles.
"To voluntarily take ourselves out of the running to (repeat) is not easy, but it’s what’s right and we’re asking for what’s right and fair," forward Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson told The Associated Press.
"It’s definitely hard. But as a group we’ve made this decision and as a team and I’m proud to do this with my teammates and to stand arm in arm with them and to say enough is enough."
There currently isn’t labour unrest among Canada’s players, who intend to report next week to their training camp in Leamington, Ont.
An advisory committee of players that includes Rougeau is the players’ point of contact with Hockey Canada management.
"We feel our relationship is very strong," said Melody Davidson, Hockey Canada’s general manager of national women’s team programs.
"We talk regularly about agreements and contracts and where we are as an organization. I’m not saying we always agree, but we always get to a really good point in the best interest of the game and moving forward with our team."
The American women have contracts with USA Hockey only in Olympic years and are seeking a deal that covers them in off years.
According to Lamoureux-Davidson, USA Hockey has paid players $1,000 a month during their six-month Olympic residency period and nothing the rest of the time.
USA Hockey said each player participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea could receive up to $85,000, which also includes medal incentives.
"We acknowledge the players’ concerns and have proactively increased our level of direct support to the women’s national team as we prepare for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games," USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean said in a statement.
"We have communicated that increased level of support to the players’ representatives and look forward to continuing our discussions."
Canada’s system is different in that the women on the national team receive carding money of $1,500 per month from Sport Canada year-round.
When the players centralized in Calgary to begin training full time for the 2014 Winter Olympics, Hockey Canada topped that up by about $2,500 per month to cover moving and living expenses.
Own The Podium directs just over a million dollars of taxpayer money annually into the Hockey Canada’s female program that includes the developmental and under-18 teams.
The American women’s hockey wage dispute follows that of U.S. women soccer players, who filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last year that alleged wage discrimination by the U.S. Soccer Federation.
So while the American women use the world championship as a negotiating tool, Canada’s players will try not to dwell on what might happen as they prepare for the tournament.
"Waking up this morning, it was kind of surprising," said forward Marie-Philip Poulin of Beauceville Que. "But after today we’ve got to focus on ourselves. We hope they’re going to come to that agreement."