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Dave Hakstol deserves praise for his public support of the US women’s national team

So far, he’s the most powerful man in hockey to publicly declare his support for the US women’s national team

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Washington Capitals at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The ongoing battle between the US Women’s National Team and USA Hockey, the national governing body for the sport, has been fought largely on social media.

It started back on March 15, when players coordinated the shocking announcement that they would boycott the upcoming World Championships unless USA Hockey committed to fair wages for players and equitable support for the women’s game across the nation. They’re asking for two things:

  1. Enough money to survive as players who commit a significant amount of time to maintaining their status as world-class athletes — even in non-Olympic years, when they don’t even earn the few-thousand dollars they earn in Olympic years;
  2. for USA Hockey to fulfill its legal obligation to support the women’s game equal to their support of the men’s game. (They currently do not.)

Things have only escalated since, with no apparent end in sight. USA Hockey released a misleading statement that exaggerated what they actual do to support USWNT players. Meanwhile, as they were publicly claiming a desire to sit at the negotiating table with the team in an attempt to hash out a deal, word slowly leaked that they were contacting less-experienced players in an effort to ice a replacement team. Player reps for the USWNT say that USA Hockey’s efforts in sit-down negotiations have basically gone nowhere.

Over the last 12 days, the situation has come to a head as younger, less-experienced players have announced on social media they they will not cross the picket line despite the unbelievable opportunity presented to them to represent their country on home ice in Michigan. It’s gotten so desperate that USA Hockey has reportedly reached out to under-16 players (!!) in an attempt to get around the national team boycott.

But the players are united, and it’s resulting in a complete disaster for USA Hockey, which has mishandled this situation in just about every way possible.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get much worse for USA Hockey ... well, it did late last week. Up until this point, most of the vocal support for the USWNT had come from fans and fellow women players, be it in hockey or soccer or basketball. But towards the end of last week, more men started adding to the chorus of support of the team, helping to increase pressure on USA Hockey leadership.

The MLBPA, NBPA and NFLPA all released statements showing their support for the USWNT’s position, and on Friday evening the NHLPA joined the chorus as well. A day later, news came out that the US men’s national team might boycott their World Championships as well in solidarity with the women’s team. That, of course, would be a critical blow for USA Hockey.

Of all these displays of support, one in particular stands out. It’s that of Philadelphia Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol, who tweeted this on Saturday morning:

This is important for several reasons. The statements released by the the various player unions and the possible action being taken by the men’s national team are vital, but those are group efforts. How many individual men’s players have come out in support, without being shrouded behind the protection of their union? Aside from 1980 Olympic hero Mike Eruzione, who is no longer in the game and has nothing to lose, Hakstol is easily the most powerful man in the hockey world to step up and declare his support.

He’s the only active NHL head coach I’ve seen who has proactively announced his individual support for the team, and that’s something that should be recognized and commended. It’s a personal undertaking, and with that Hakstol bears the full burden of whatever backlash might come with it. Not an organization like a players union, not the Flyers organization. Just him.

It is not far-fetched to assume Hakstol hears about this, either. Hockey in the United States is a small community. Hakstol is a dual US and Canadian citizen who has coached top-level college hockey in this country -- which, aside from the national teams, is the highest level of the game that USA Hockey touches. By doing this, Hakstol is likely speaking out against people who he knows, and likely those he considers friends.

(It’s worth noting here that Flyers president Paul Holmgren is well-connected within USA Hockey, and he most recently served as an assistant GM for the 2016 World Cup team. We don’t have any clue what Holmgren’s stance is on this particular issue, but his connection to USA Hockey and his position north of Hakstol on the Flyers’ org chart is worth noting in the context of Hakstol’s public stance here.)

USA Hockey is an old boys’ club, and that’s largely why they’re in this position in the first place. It might look like we’re just praising the guy for doing the easy, right thing in speaking out against it.

But it’s harder than it looks for somebody in Hakstol’s position as an NHL head coach to speak out publicly against a well-connected organization responsible for pulling the strings of the sport all across this country. He’s showing himself as a true ally to the women’s national team in doing so. He doesn’t have to say anything. The fact that he did anyway says something about his character that we should appreciate.

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For more on the ongoing fight between the US women’s national team and USA Hockey, check in with SB Nation’s women’s hockey site, The Ice Garden.

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