In 2017, the U.S. Women’s National Ice Hockey Team (USWNT) became world champions both on and off the ice.
The USWNT has won metals in every Olympic tournament and finished first or second in every International Ice Hockey Federation (IIAF) World Championship since 1990. By comparison, the Men’s National Team, with its deeper bench of competition, has won two silver Olympic and four bronze World medals in the same period.
But, the women’s pay, training, marketing and programming has paled in comparison to what USA Hockey provided men. Minnesota native Gigi Marvin, 2-time Olympian and 7-time World Champion notes, “It has always been given to the men. Why it is being withheld from the women?”
With year-long equity negotiations stalling, the 23-rostered team (10 of whom have Minnesota roots) risked it all by boycotting the 2017 World Championships unless equity was achieved. “We train every day for only 9 games a year. To forfeit 5 games in an Olympic year? A huge risk,” Marvin says.
Maddie Rooney, goalie for University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) puts in 5-hours of ice time each day in addition to school work. She dreams of playing hockey as long as possible, which means being able to make a living at it.
Solidarity quickly spread for the boycott. Women across the country, from NCAA Division III college players to high school hockey kids, who were called in as replacements said “no” to their chance at Worlds. National Hockey League, National Basketball Association, Women’s National Basketball Association, the National Women’s Soccer players all lent public support through social media. Several U.S. Democratic Senators signed a public letter stating USA Hockey’s legal requirement ”to provide equitable support and encouragement for participation by women” and detailing areas of reported resourcing and programming disparities.
Three days before Worlds, an agreement was reached. “Both sides made compromises,” says Marvin. “The result is a massive boost to women’s hockey.” Details are not released; however, the agreement makes unprecedented and across-the-board equity strides. In addition to pay, travel and insurance provisions, the agreement establishes a Women’s High Performance Advisory Group to advance girls’ and women’s hockey programming, marketing, promotion and fundraising.
“These women were very crafty and smart, taking an incredibly strategic, all-for-one approach,” says Mary Jo Kane, University of Minn. professor and director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport. “They used social media to control the narrative and exhibited all the trademarks of power in sports: teamwork, doing something larger than yourself, resiliency and determination to not be defeated.”
Reagan Carey, USA Hockey’s director of women’s ice hockey was clear, “These women put everything on the line and made significant gains. They are phenomenal women who are positive role models for young boys and girls.”
With a 48-hour turnaround, USWNT faced off to defend their World Champ title. Rooney shut out the Russian team’s offense. Marvin added a goal and an assist. Hilary Knight scored the final tournament-winning goal in overtime that toppled Canada and delivered gold.
The 2017-18 USWNT now sets its sights on the 2018 Winter Olympics. Players live, train and compete together for six months leading up to February games hosted by Pyeongchang, South Korea. Rooney, delaying school for the year, offers advice to young girls, “Listen to your coaches and put the work in.” In a growing sport that now offers living wages, it’s worth a shot.