MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It’s rare to score a game-winner off the ice, but for women’s hockey that’s exactly what happened Tuesday evening.

After 15 months of intense bargaining, an equity barrier has been broken.

“The way I describe it is that it’s sort of growing pains for our sport,” said former University of Minnesota women’s hockey coach Laura Halldorson.

Two weeks before the Women’s World Hockey Tournament is set to begin, players on team USA were locked in a unified boycott. The rift reflected long-seated frustration over the fact that women players earn a fraction of the pay and benefits that USA Hockey gives its men athletes.

“I certainly give the players a lot of credit for taking a stand and sticking together and fighting for what they thought was right,” Halldorson said.

Halldorson coached the Gopher women’s hockey team to two NCAA national championships, in 2004 and 2005.  Now, the coach of the semi-professional Minnesota Whitecaps, Halldorson has five players are on the USA National team competing at the World Championships.

The deal raises player pay from the current $6,000 to nearly $70,000.  It gives performance bonuses, travel, per-diem and insurance benefits close to what men get. But just as importantly, USA Hockey will form a committee to both promote and fundraise for girls and women’s hockey.

“It was probably a little tricky to define what is fair and equitable, but it’s great they came to an agreement and can move forward,” said Halldorson.

The boycott was a huge embarrassment to USA Hockey, which would have been a no-show at the upcoming tournament. Plymouth, Mich., is hosting the world competition, a year ahead of the 2018 Olympics.

When the deal was reached, USA Hockey’s Executive Director Dave Ogrean said, “This process has, in the end, made us better.”

A last-minute agreement over gender equity means the USA Women’s Hockey team will compete at the tournament set to begin Friday, March 31.

Bill Hudson