Mike Eruzione feels compelled to support U.S. women's national hockey team

U.S. women's national ice hockey team forward Hilary Knight joins OTL to share why the players are willing to boycott the IIHF World Championships and forgo defending their title if USA Hockey is unwilling to make progress to secure fair wages.

Mike Eruzione, captain of the famed 1980 U.S. Olympic men's hockey team, says he feels compelled to support the women's national team and its potential boycott of the upcoming IIHF World Championships.

The U.S. team is considering the boycott in an effort to secure more financial support from USA Hockey.

"I know probably 90 percent of women's team players. I know how much they work and sacrifice. I have incredible respect for how far their game has come, and I think they should be treated fairly," Eruzione said Friday in a telephone interview from his hometown of Boston. "Obviously there's a problem there. Clearly something has been going on for a while. Clearly they feel cheated and not treated fairly to draw a line in the sand like this."

The tournament will begin March 31 in Plymouth, Michigan.

"The world championships are a big tournament," Eruzione said. "It's in our own country, the schedule is already set, tickets have already been sold. In a man's term, that's a ballsy move by them."

The U.S. women, the reigning world champions, were expected to arrive at training camp Tuesday.

"We are asking for a living wage and for USA Hockey to fully support its programs for women and girls and stop treating us like an afterthought," team captain Meghan Duggan said Wednesday. "We have represented our country with dignity and deserve to be treated with fairness and respect."

Eruzione, who scored the winning goal against Russia for the 1980 Miracle on Ice team, says he and his teammates knew a little bit about prejudice when they played, too. American-born male hockey players weren't well-regarded back then. Many NHL scouts didn't think Americans couldn't play well enough to make a dent in the league.

But his team shocked the Russians and then defeated Finland for the gold medal. Goaltender Jim Craig earned a quick call-up by the Boston Bruins. Center Mark Johnson had a fine NHL career. Coach Herb Brooks, who gave one of the most famous locker room speeches in sports history the day the United States beat Russia, had stints with several NHL teams. And participation in hockey boomed in the U.S.

So Eruzione understands what several U.S. women's players were referring to Thursday when they talked about how aspiring athletes are sometimes unable to dream about doing things they cannot see. And he has lived what happens when athletes can.

"Look at us today -- our men's team is competitively one of the best in the world now, year in and year out, with players like Patrick Kane. Our women's team is the best -- though Canada hockey can argue back and forth about that," Eruzione said with a laugh.

Eruzione personally skated back in the day with Cammi Granato, the three-time Olympian who tried to lead a fight in 2000 to get better treatment for the women's national team after it won the gold medal at the 1998 Nagano Games, the first Olympics for women's hockey. But that 2000 team was immediately locked out of its Lake Placid, New York, training facility, quickly broke ranks and went back to work.

The difference this time is the 23 players on the 2017 national team have held together, and when Duggan made calls to each of the remaining 90-plus players in the women's national player pool Thursday -- after USA Hockey implied it might field a replacement team at worlds -- Duggan said, "One hundred percent of the players I called told me they would support us. And they told me [they] would not play."

The organization also stated for a second straight day that it planned to contact representatives of the women's team to restart negotiations. But John B. Langel, their lead attorney, said as of 7:30 pm ET Friday -- or about two hours after the federation's release -- he had not heard from the organization.

Several players did confirm receiving text messages from the federation earlier in the day, but asked the federation to work through their legal representatives.

Eruzione chuckled when he was asked if he found the federation's attempt to contact players and bypass the players' legal counsel a departure from standard negotiating practices.

"Welcome to USA Hockey," he said.

Then he added, "I think things like this are why you get Billie Jean King, Julie Foudy and so many other women who fought for years for women to get things like equal treatment, equal pay. You hate to see this have to happen.

"That's why I want to throw my support behind these girls. Hockey players should stick together with hockey players. We care about women's programs. We care about women's hockey. And we care about women's rights."

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