Ice hockey-U.S. women's team settle pay dispute, avoid boycott

By Frank Pingue

By Frank Pingue

(Reuters) - USA Hockey and the women's national team reached an agreement in their wage dispute in time to avert a boycott of the upcoming world championship, the national governing body said on Tuesday.

The deal comes after over a year of efforts by members of the three-time defending world champions to secure higher wages and support from USA Hockey.

"Our sport is the big winner today," U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said in a statement. "We stood up for what we thought was right and USA Hockey's leadership listened. In the end, both sides came together."

The two sides have agreed not to disclose financial terms of the deal but the players were seeking a four-year agreement that included payment outside of the six-month Olympic period.

The deal includes the formation of a group of former and current players to work towards advancing both girls' and women's hockey in all areas, including programming, marketing, promotion and fundraising.

Players were under contract to USA Hockey only during years when the Winter Games are held and were seeking a deal that would compensate them during non-Olympic years.

But USA Hockey had argued that it is their responsibility to provide support for athletes as they prepare for competitions and that they are not in the job of employing players.

The team drew international attention as well as support from U.S. senators and unions from the four major North American sports leagues when two weeks ago they threatened to boycott the world championship, which begins on Friday in Michigan.

The standoff raised the possibility of a humiliating situation for USA Hockey had the reigning champion U.S. women's team not attended or if a lower-level replacement squad was sent in their place.

USA Hockey said the resolution was for the betterment of the sport and that they will look back on this moment as one of the most positive in the history of the organization.

"We look forward to the future with great anticipation," said Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey. "This process has, in the end, made us better."

Team USA are scheduled to play their first game of the tournament on Friday against rival Canada.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Andrew Both)