U.S. women’s hockey players have won battle for support, now the bigger war begins

Just a day after the U.S. women’s hockey players declared a boycott of the upcoming world championships, the players have already won the battle for public support. But now, the bigger war begins.

On Wednesday, the players announced that they would not be competing in the World Championships after “more than a year of stalled negotiations with USA Hockey to secure fair wages and support.” Since then, the two have been engaging in a battle for public support, each issuing statements, first with USA Hockey’s that it does provide support and equal treatment of its women’s players, and then again from the players saying that the federation’s statement was misleading.

When it was all said and done, the players were the ones who saw an outpouring of support. Plenty of it came from fellow women athletes like U.S. Soccer stars Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd and former U.S. Soccer great Mia Hamm. But while support from those fellow-women athletes was perhaps to be expected, the biggest slap in the face to USA Hockey has been the support of the women from the federation’s “golden child” himself, Mike Eruzione—the captain of the 1980 USA Hockey “Miracle on Ice” team who also scored the game-winner against the Soviet Union, who wished the women “good luck” and said that, “You have my support.”

While Eruzione’s comments were short, they show how much USA Hockey is fighting a losing “public relations battle” against the women here. At first glance, it doesn’t make sense on paper for Eruzione to go against USA Hockey here. But this isn’t just some exhibition game or low-key tournament. This is the world championships—which are almost on par with the Olympic Games. So think of it this way: no athlete grows up dreaming to NOT play in the world championships or Olympics. That shows how fed up these women are, and taking a drastic stance like this shows how serious they are about it.

That’s something that a lot of people, especially a former Olympic hockey player like Eruzione, can appreciate, which is why he is supporting the women in their battle against a federation that he has worked hand-in-hand with for the last 37 years.

[More from Excelle Sports: U.S. Soccer star Alex Morgan throws her support behind U.S. women’s hockey strike]

Another organization supporting the women is the National Women’s Hockey League, which also presents some problems for USA Hockey. The federation has promised to still “field a competitive team” for the World Championships. But where the federation is planning on getting its players from is anyone’s guess. The players have said that no USWNT, U18 player or NWHL player will compete in the World Championships under this strike. If USA Hockey had any hope of getting some NWHL players to still play in the world championships, that hope was quickly shot down, as the NWHL issued a statement on Thursday saying that it “stands behind the women of the U.S. National Team in their quest for equality.”

“These national team players have elevated our professional league and worked tirelessly to develop the game and serve as role models to the next generation of players,” the statement read. “Their commitment to equality is admirable, and we will continue to fight for them and alongside them.”

Now, with the public support battle already won, perhaps the best situation for the players here is to boycott the world championships, let USA Hockey field a team that won’t be able to compete against the world’s best like Canada and Finland—wherever they get their players from—and get embarrassed on home ice. That will show how valuable the true U.S. women’s hockey players are, and will hopefully give them their fair wages moving forward—especially ahead of next year’s PyeongChang Olympics.

[More from Excelle Sports: BREAKING: USA Hockey issued deadline for women’s team to finalize boycott decision]

The players are now in a position where they can’t falter like they did in 2000. That year, the players threatened a similar strike, but when they hired attorneys to represent them in contract talks with the federation, then-coach Ben Smith locked the team out of its training facility in Lake Placid, and the women immediately folded and quickly went back to work, and the whole ordeal was quickly forgotten.

Regardless of how this whole situation plays out, the stance that these women have taken will not, and cannot, be forgotten, even long after the medals have been awarded at the World Championships on April 7.

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