Women took a noble stand
Megan Keller saw the signs as she skated over to the bench for a drink of water.
“She believed she could so she did,” was written on one in blue marker. Another simply said, “Thank you for being ‘BOLD’ in big block letters.
Keller smiled. If there had been any doubt — and there was plenty during the last several weeks with the U.S. women’s hockey team threatening to boycott the world hockey championship unless it received increased wages and developmental support at the grassroots level — it was erased as the team returned to the ice for its first practice.
The women’s hockey team had stood up for change. And in the process, others stood up with them.
“It made me smile to know that people support us and even younger people were standing up with us. It was amazing to see,” said Keller, a defenceman on the U.S. team.
Holding up one of the signs during was 19-yearold Carly Costello of nearby Ann Arbour, Mich. Two years ago, Costello said she was forced to quit competitive hockey because there were only three under-19 teams in the state of Michigan and the travel was just not worth it.
“I was very proud to stand behind them because I know how it is to be a female hockey player and I know that you don’t get the things that the men do,” said Costello, who was at the practice with her mom and two younger brothers. “It’s so important what (the U.S. women’s team) did, because it wasn’t just for themselves but for future generations.”
Costello’s story is why the U.S. women’s team was prepared to sit out of a tournament that it had won the past three years. In the end, the players received what they had asked for on Tuesday in the form of a four-year agreement that, according to reports, should increase the player’s monthly stipend from US$1,000 to $3,000 to $4,000 per month.
But it wasn’t just about getting more money for the players on this year’s national team. It was about bridging the gap towards equality. It was about making sure younger women, like Costello, would have more opportunities.
“It’s about the future and I hope this continues to grow the women’s game,” said Keller. “I played with boys growing up and eventually switched to girls, but there’s just not as many options when I was growing up. I hope this continues to create more opportunities for these younger girls.”
It was a courageous move. Had USA Hockey not met the women’s demands, there was talk that replacement players would be used in the tournament.
“The last few months were tough,” said U.S. forward Hilary Knight. “The last few weeks were even tougher. Just knowing that we were on a deadline and we wanted to play here, but we were passionate for our cause. At the end of the day, USA Hockey stepped up and we’re ready to move forward together in a positive direction.
“It’s been a long 14 or 15 months here, but we’re just excited to be representing our country at the world stage. I think from the entire process what I’ll remember is being able to stand strong as a unit, collectively as a group but also getting the outpouring of support that we received from all over the world that transcended our sport specifically. The fact that we gave hope to other people to improve equitable support.”
The women’s sacrifice did not go unnoticed. Amanda Kessel said she received support from all over, whether “at a diner in Jersey City” or on social media, where they received a shout-out from actress Gabrielle Union.
“I think just the awareness it brought to women’s hockey in general,” said Kessel. “Hopefully, people are paying attention to us more and watching us more and they’ll see the value and talent that’s out there.”
Even the Canadian women’s team was rooting for their rivals.
“We’re really happy for them,” said Team Canada captain Marie-Philip Poulin. “We’re really happy that they came to an agreement and we’ll be playing them tomorrow.”
Now comes the hard part: actually playing in the tournament.
While Team Canada has been practising together for weeks and playing warm-up games, the U.S. team has had one practice before Friday’s tournament opener against Canada.
But if the team is rusty, it certainly won’t lack motivation. After all, they enter the tournament practically floating on a cloud of support from women all over the world. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s a familiar opponent.
“It’s easy,” Kessel said of being ready for the game. “It’s Canada.”