The U-S women's hockey team signed a new, four-year contract with USA Hockey Tuesday night, avoiding a threatened boycott of the 2017 World Championships, which will begin Friday in Plymouth, Michigan. Channel Three Sports spoke with U.S. team member and former UVM star Amanda Pelkey by phone on Wednesday hours after the Montpelier native and her teammates landed in Michigan.
"Yeah, I was really excited," Pelkey said. "I definitely couldn't sleep that well that night, but definitely a huge relief."
The team said it would boycott the tournament unless a deal was reached. Pelkey said the negotiations have actually been going on for 15 months, and that as soon as the team new the Championships would be held in the U-S, they knew what they had to do.
"Obviously all of us want to be playing in the World Championships, especially if it's on home soil," Pelkey said. "This was something we needed to sacrifice. Obviously, we wanted the outcome that we did receive, but we were also willing to do, pretty much anything at this point, to really make a change."
The financial details of this contract are a game changer for the U.S. women. Prior to this deal, USA Hockey only paid the members of the women's national team for training leading up to the Olympics, $6,000 for a six month residency which equates to $1,000 a month for six months every four years.
The new deal will play players roughly $70,000 a year, with performance bonuses that could push their income over six figures if they win the Olympics or world championships. That means players like Pelkey can now turn their sole focus into becoming the best hockey players they can be.
"I was coaching, doing personal lessons, anything that I could do just to pay rent, just to pay the bills, just to pay for groceries," Pelkey said. "I wasn't living a crazy lifestyle. I was waking up, going to training for 'X' amount of hours for the day, then would coach, do private lessons. Our whole team had to do that. It's going to be completely different and I'm just so proud of the group that we have that has finally gotten to this point and gotten it done. It's an extremely historic moment."
The deal also puts the team's travel and insurance arrangements on par with the U.S. men's team, forming a Women's High Performance Advisory Group, to help put a greater focus on growing women's hockey nationwide.
"That's what's going to be huge for upcoming years," Pelkey said. "Even when I'm done playing. Hopefully I have a couple more years, but think about the ten year old girls that have that dream. They can finally make it just their primary job and not have to worry about finding money elsewhere."
It's a quick turnaround for Pelkey and company. They were originally supposed to arrive in Michigan last week for training camp. Now, it's a couple of days of practice before opening the World Championships against arch-rival Canada Friday night. Pelkey says, even while the negotiations continued, the players were training and they will be ready Friday. In fact, Amanda says that instead of being at a disadvantage, she feels that everything that has transpired will lead to an even more determined and motivated team on the ice.
"We've historically changed the way women's hockey is viewed, and how important it truly is. And we've brought more value to our side of the sport. I think that alone, within our team, is going to bring us even tighter than we already are. We're already a family and I'm just so excited to see how much deeper our connection as a team is going to be."
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