We read the headlines, and we followed closely as the United States’ Women’s Hockey Team underwent intense pay negotiations weeks before they were set to leave for the World Championship in Michigan earlier this year. After many discussions, letters from U.S. Congress women, and a pledge from the men’s national team that they would not attend their World Championship unless there would be a fair negotiation made, the women’s team left for Michigan just days before the start of the World Championship.
I had the honor of sitting down with Nicole Hensley, the goaltender for the Women’s National Team, and asking her some questions about the negotiations, the Olympics, and the future of women’s hockey. Nicole, a Colorado native, played Division I for Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO. After her senior year with Lindenwood she transitioned into coaching for the team saying, “It was hard to be on the other side of things, cause obviously you want to keep playing with them. Especially knowing a lotof the girls, it was just kind of one of those things that as I got older and as an upperclassman, and becoming a leader on the team, it wasn’t too bad to transition to a coach.” Going on to say, “We had a great group of girls that I had a ton of respect for on our team and I think they felt the same way about me. That made it a lot easier to transition.”
Regarding the World Championships, I asked Nicole what was going on in her mind and the team’s minds during the whole process. She responded saying, “I think we used each other a lot, if we were feeling anxious or nervous about how things would turn out, we always had each other to turn too. But I also think that we were strong in the fact that we were going to stick together. I think we knew that we had that kind of group. There were a lot of good days and bad days, leading up to if we were going to go or not. We knew in the end that we were doing something bigger than hockey, and bigger than ourselves. You know, that’s part of our team mantra. That’s something we talk a lot about is being a part of something bigger than ourselves. We knew this wasn’t just going to affect us, it was going to affect the bigger picture in the end, and we felt like we were doing the right thing.”
So then I asked her how it felt to have support from the Men’s team and support from women ingovernment to which she replied, “That was incredible, and I think that it was really empowering for us as a group, and women in general. I know Megan Duggan our captain has said it before but kind of the unsung heroes in the whole thing were the people that USA Hockey turned to, so they could compete in our place and they said ‘no.’ They didn’t feel comfortable, they didn’t feel like that was the right thing to do. And by them doing that, and us all taking a huge stand, I think that’s what ultimately led to the negotiations really starting to intensify and become more progressive.”I asked her if she felt like they really proved their point by winning the World Championship, or was it an entirely separate thing. Her response was, “I think that was just the icing on the cake. Really it was just to know that. We went into it like we’ve stuck together on such a big issue off the ice, that anything we faced on the ice, we were prepared for. We knew we would stick together throughout the whole thing, I think that was a huge part in overcoming the adversity of only having a couple days to train together beforehand. Any rough patches that we went through during the tournament, we were like ‘okay guys we’ve done something bigger than, we can for sure handle anything on the ice together.”
Nicole had an amazing tournament on the ice, winning all her games, and having two shutouts on top of that. I wondered if she just felt like she was on top of the world. “It took a while for it to sink in.That was my second world championship, in the first one it was really just getting to know how everything works and what it’s like to really play and compete at that level. To actually be able to really contribute to the team this time was just an incredible experience. It will go down as one of my favorite hockey memories for sure.”
Now Nicole will play in Pyeongchang, South Korea in the 2018 Winter Olympics. Moving forward this was her outlook for next year: “I think the whole team is super excited. We went through the trial process, [it] can be a pretty grueling week. You’re competing against the best people in the country to earn a spot on this team. It’s a hard week and there’s a lot of ups and downs and you have to be pretty mentally resilient through that. I think that in the end to come out on the other side and see the group of women we have is absolutely fantastic. We have great veteran leadership, I think those of us who are younger I don’t think it has sunk in yet. We haven’t started training together yet. I’m just looking forward to growing as a player and as a person with those women.”
When asked where she felt the future of girls and women’s hockey will go after all of this. I wanted to know if she felt it would make women’s hockey more competitive. She said, “Yeah, I think we’re getting more of that support staff wise and more funding. Hopefully more games. I think that will help grow the sport. Because little girls can’t dream of what they can’t see. So, if we have more games, and things like that, if we’re out in the community more, we’re seen more, if the marketing and the advertising for our games if that’s all better, it just helps get the word out. I know the numbers of girls’ hockey from the 90’s to now has increased incredibly.” Adding later, “People have to see it to know it’s out there.”
“Everyone is super excited to get that rolling” She said talking about getting ready for the Olympics. Well Nicole, I think it’s safe to say we can’t wait to see what the U.S. Team will do next year at the Olympics. We wish you and the team the best of luck on the ice.