Patience remains the operative word from Hilary Knight on the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association’s long-awaited bid to launch its own professional league.
“I’m not anxious yet. You know, I’m on the board, so I get a little peek behind the curtain so to speak,” one of USA Hockey’s most decorated and longest-serving players told The Associated Press this week.
The PWHPA — now a certified union — is in negotiations with its corporate partners (Billie Jean King Enterprises and Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Mark Walter) to hammer out a collective bargaining agreement.
“I know people who aren’t necessarily in the mix are like, `What’s going to happen next year? How’s this going to work? It’s already mid-June.’ And I totally get that,” Knight said. “So I’m excited about this year. I think that’s all I can say.”
Knight’s assessment follows a recent letter the PWHPA sent to its membership saying it is at “the finish line” of negotiations with only a few details left to resolve, and has already begun touring potential arena sites in both the U.S. and Canada. A person with direct knowledge of the letter confirmed its contents to The AP on Friday on the condition of anonymity because it was not released publicly. The Hockey News first reported the letter’s details.
What impresses Knight is how PWHPA members — a majority of them U.S. and Canadian national team players — remain unified in their vision to wait out the negotiations, which began in March and were initially expected to be completed by the end of April.
In the meantime, having helped raise the profile and pay for women’s hockey, Knight is not going to begrudge fellow players from cashing in on the lucrative contracts being offered by the rival Premier Hockey Federation. The seven-team PHF has doubled it’s salary cap to $1.5 million per team entering its ninth season.
What’s also true for the International Ice Hockey Federation’s first female player of the year is Knight won’t be swayed from her belief that there’s a better and more sustainable alternative to building the women’s pro game.
“I make this distinction. The more women we can have get paid to do the sport they love, I think that’s awesome,” Knight said.
“What bothers me is the illusion of professionalism and what women’s hockey should be, and settling for what it is, right? And I think that’s the big distinction is let’s call it what it is,” she said. “For people who really want to change the game and make it professional and give hockey, women’s hockey particularly, the legs that it needs to actually get up and go in the right direction and make it sustainable, that’s what it’s all about.”
If that means the PWHPA initially loses out on high-profile European national players — among them, Switzerland’s Alina Muller, Sweden’s Emma Soderberg and former Finland goalie and ex-PWHPA board member Noora Raty, who all signed with the PHF — so be it.
“It’s a personal decision. And would I love to have more European players not have signed or waited out their different prospects? Yeah,” Knight said. “But who am I to say what they should and shouldn’t do?”
A month before turning 34, Knight’s perspective is the result of being a leader for players who realized the first glimpses of what women’s hockey can offer financially, starting with her sponsorship deal with Red Bull that dates to 2015. She has also represented Nike, Bauer, Chipotle and Visa, and is now enjoying a budding broadcasting career with ESPN.
In 2017, Knight was at the forefront of the U.S. players’ threat to boycott the 2017 world championships on home soil, successfully achieving their bid for better pay and more equitable treatment from USA Hockey.
She has also experienced the pitfalls, including having her salary slashed in 2016 while playing for the National Women’s Hockey League — now the PHF — and having the Canadian Women’s Hockey League financially collapse in 2019.
Those experiences leave Knight wanting to push the door open for her colleagues and hockey’s next generation of players.
“What’s really interesting is seeing the shift. We had a group that felt finally empowered to make change,” Knight said. “And now this next generation doesn’t feel any of those barriers. … They think it’s the norm.”
Knight is upbeat and seemingly free of any concerns in having returned to the ice in St. Paul, Minnesota, after recovering from what she referred to as an upper-body injury.
Personally, she is riding high with her IIHF honor after scoring three times in a 6-3 win over Canada in the world championship final to claim her ninth gold medal — tying an individual tournament record — and 10th for the United States.
Knight’s performance at the world championships in April was rejuvenating — “A big boost, to be honest” — to a player whose national team career that began in 2007 and is showing no signs of an end date.
Knight has maintained she will continue playing until the game is no longer enjoyable or she begin showing signs of age.
“So the preconception of where I should be in my prime, to me, I don’t understand that because I show up every single day to the rink wanting to get better,” Knight said. “We’ll see how long this runway is for that.”