For Kimberly Sass, the decision to risk missing a season of hockey in a bid for a better professional women’s league came down to simple choice.
Dollars and cents matter more than ice time and stopping pucks.
"In April, I came to realize that after-tax write-offs, including equipment, travel and taxes I paid more to play professional ice hockey in 2018 than I made," the Metropolitan Riveters goaltender said. "It is the financially responsible decision to not play professional women’s ice hockey next season."
Sass, who is also an architect in New York City, is among the more than 200 of the world’s top female players who announced they will not play professional hockey in North America next season in a bold attempt to establish a single, economically viable league. While members of national teams get stipend money from USA Hockey and Hockey Canada and some sponsorships, some have been paid as little as $2,000 a year to play.
The decision to sit out was not easy, nor was it fully unified despite the large number. Time waits for no one in sports, and not practising with teammates or playing games is a heavy blow. Staying in "hockey shape" is a concern.
Women on national teams will have practices and tournaments like the Four Nations Cup in November and the 2020 world championships. Liz Knox, goalie and co-chair of the players’ union for the now-defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League, said she expects to see more support from Hockey Canada and USA Hockey to keep those players fit.
Still, many players are just trying to figure out what’s next, and those conversations haven’t been held yet in the wake of organizing this push for a sustainable league. Knox said the challenge is balancing resources. Simply playing in a beer league wouldn’t be fair to players already in those leagues.
"So where do we fit in here?" Knox said. "I don’t know. That’s something that we’re still trying to navigate."
The clock is ticking for older players, including several of the stars who ended the United States’ Olympic gold medal drought in 2018. Meghan Duggan, captain of that U.S. team, will be 32 in September and has played in both the CWHL and NWHL. Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, who helped clinch Olympic gold for the United States in 2018 with her shootout goal, and sister Monique Lamoureux-Morando turn 30 in July.
Both sisters took off the past year to start families with each having sons last winter, and now they face a second season without hockey. Lamoureux-Davidson says the twins are trained by her sister’s husband and also skate at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
The next step will be trying to figure out how everyone can train and stay sharp on the ice.
"And hopefully there’s support from other organizations, and I think there’s conversations about that," Lamoureux-Davidson said. "But yeah, definitely that’s where the concern comes in for a lot of players as well is, ‘What am I going to do to be where I need to be when there’s a place to play?"’
Sass already knows the challenge of taking a break from hockey, having thought she retired not once but twice. The first came right after graduating from Colgate and choosing graduate school over the CWHL or playing in Europe. Following the National Women’s Hockey League’s first season with Buffalo, she thought her career over again when she couldn’t find a position on another team. She didn’t work out or train with a goalie coach, making it tougher when she got a call just before the 2017-18 season.
Like many players, Sass juggles a traditional job with hockey. She has had colleagues ask why she works as an architect if she’s a professional hockey player, and she missed the Riveters’ last playoff game in March not wanting to take off an extra half day from her new job because travel to Minnesota was routed round-trip through North Carolina.
Sass said she knows at age 28 she might not play in the new league the women want.
"It’s really a personal decision for players to decide to continue training to keep doors open or to help the game in other ways," Sass said.
Every woman who decided not to play in North America this next season understands that some may never benefit, and Lamoureux-Davidson said that is part of the push to create something that can last.
"I think everyone understands that it’s much bigger than any one individual’s career, and we’re all proud to stand together and hopefully make a big difference for the next generation," she said.
Anything should be better than a typical Thursday for Knox while she was playing for the CWHL’s Markham Thunder. She worked her day job as a contractor from 6 a.m. until 4 p.m., grabbed dinner, went to class training for a career as a firefighter between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. before driving to practice. Knox said she could not remember the last time she got a full eight hours’ sleep balancing professional hockey and work.
"You’re looking at 6 a.m. to an 11 p.m. day, and we shouldn’t have to do that," Knox said.