The Hickel sisters of Anchorage lost their jobs as pro hockey players last month when the league they played in — the Canadian Women’s Hockey League — went out of business.
Now they’re on strike.
Zoe Hickel, 26, and Tori Hickel, 25, are among more than 200 women — including many of the world’s best players — who on Thursday announced they will not play in any North America professional leagues this year.
The players shared their decision on social media with a post that said “it is time to create a sustainable professional league for Women’s Hockey.”
“Having no health insurance and making as low as two thousand dollars a season means players can’t adequately train and prepare to play at the highest level,” the post said. “Because of that, we will not play in ANY professional leagues in North America this season until we get the resources that professional hockey demands and deserves.”
Both of the Hickels played NCAA Division I college hockey before going pro, and in March they helped the Calgary Inferno win the CWHL’s Clarkson Cup.
Zoe Hickel, a two-time world champion with the U.S. national team, said her experience this season with the Inferno “came close” to matching what was described in Thursday’s announcement. She did not receive health insurance from the team or the league, she said, and she did not earn much money.
“It’s nothing,” she said. “It’s pennies.”
Hickel makes a living by coaching, teaching at skills camps and running her own business, ZoPro, which offers online personal training. She had a successful college career at Minnesota-Duluth, but since then, continuing to play at a high level has been challenging.
Asked when the last time she didn’t know by the month of May if or where she would be playing the next season, Hickel laughed.
“It’s happened for the last four years,” she said. “This is nothing new.”
And that’s what she and other players want to change, she said: “We’re looking (for) some better sustainability.”
With the demise of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, the only women’s league left in North America is the National Women’s Hockey League, which has five teams in the United States. The NWHL said it intends to open its season as planned in October.
“I have no interest in going to the NWHL,” said Hickel, who played two seasons in the league before spending the last two seasons in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.
Reaction on social media to the women’s announcement ranged from support to skepticism to suggestions that if there was a market for women’s pro hockey, the sport would be able to sustain itself.
“There’s going to be those kind of comments, and it’s uneducated people who have those comments,” Hickel said. “I’ve been part of many games that have had over hundreds of thousand views and I’ve played in front of thousands of people.”
Hickel said players are talking about where and how they can continue to train, especially for those who want to stay in shape for the U.S. and Canadian national teams. She said it’s difficult to imagine sitting out an entire season, but she thinks it’s important to take a stand.
“We probably won’t see the benefits,” she said, “but we hope to create this for the future generations.”