CRANBERRY, Pa. -- In 2017, the U.S. women's national team players announced that they were boycotting that year's World Championship tournament unless progress was made in the way the players were treated by USA Hockey.
With that year's tournament being on home soil, and it being the year before the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, the players had a lot of bargaining power. Among the things they were asking for were a livable wage, disability insurance, the opportunity to play more games, equitable support in things like travel or the development programs for boys and girls, and maternity leave.
Three days before the tournament was set to begin, the players and USA Hockey reached an agreement, giving the players the livable wage, protection, and support they were seeking.
Two of the top players on the women's team, twins Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando, became the first players to take advantage of the new maternity leave protection this year.
The twins, 30, were instrumental in the United States winning gold over Canada in Pyeongchang in 2018.
Jocelyne, a forward, led the Americans in goals in the tournament, with four in five games, and was tied for the team-lead in points with five. She scored the game-winning shootout goal in the gold medal game:
Monique, a defender, recorded two goals and an assist in five games in the Olympics in 2018, including the tying goal in the gold-medal game to send the game to overtime:
Shortly after winning gold, both twins got pregnant. Monique gave birth to a son on Dec. 11, 2018, and Jocelyne welcomed a son six weeks later on Jan. 22.
The joint United States-Canada training camp being held in Cranberry this week, the second such camp the twins have attended since returning from maternity leave, is one of the big steps toward returning to real tournament action.
After Day 1 of camp on Monday, I asked both players how it felt to be back on the ice with the national team after over a year away from the game.
"It's awesome," Monique told me. "August was our first camp back, this is our first game in a year and a half. We felt like we played well in August, but certainly not where we wanted to be yet in the conditioning, just in being sharp. But it was a good stepping stone for us and a good starting point to know what we need to continue to work on and continue to build off of in camp. To come out here and be with the team for the first time in almost two years is really exciting for us, we see this camp as another opportunity for us to show where we're at physically and mentally in our games after basically taking a year and a half off."
"Monique and I have been working really hard to get back on the national team," Jocelyne told me of the past 10 months. "We feel like we're taking the right steps, we're not where we want to be in the long run but making this roster and being here at this camp was a good step for us. It's always good to be back in red, white, and blue."
Monique called the rehab process "like coming back from a major injury," and like those major injuries, getting their conditioning back up to where it was before is the final step in the process.
"Being sharp, executing plays, just takes time," Jocelyne added. "It's just a matter of getting the reps in at a high pace, and just there's no shortcuts to being in elite shape as an elite athlete. You just have to put in the work and that takes time. We're hoping that by the end of the season we're feeling pretty close to where we can be."
That both twins had their first children at the same time wasn't a coincidence. They didn't plan it with each other. They didn't have to. With both twins in the same stages of their lives and the Americans reaching their goal of winning gold in Pyeongchang, it was the perfect timing.
"Essentially we timed when we wanted to start families around the Olympics," Monique explained. "That's just the reality that a lot of elite female athletes live in. We were extremely fortunate that we were able to do that, to get pregnant right away. When you get into that world, that's not always the case. To be able to get pregnant right away and have our babies, the time of it, that time frame gave us the most time to get back into shape and not feel like we had to rush."
Being away from the national team for so long after the Olympics was an adjustment for the two, who had both been playing for the women's team for the last decade. Sitting on the couch watching the U.S. women win gold over Finland in the 2019 World Championship was a weird feeling.
"It was really nerve-wracking to be honest, I did not enjoy watching it," Jocelyne said. "I was really stressed, especially for the overtime game. But it was fun to see the team compete and come out with another gold medal."
"I remember watching the championship game and both babies were napping, we were trying not to cheer when they scored," Monique laughed. "I think just watching that, the adrenaline that you get, I think we both kind of knew that we're not ready to be done yet. It made us excited to be back and kept us motivated."
Organizations like USA Hockey providing maternity leave is crucial for female athletes of any sport. The Family Medical Leave Act ensures job protection for eligible workers in the United States, giving 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Professional women's hockey and the national team's commitments aren't enough to qualify the athletes for FMLA protections, though, which would make a pregnancy potentially career-threatening without maternity leave benefits from their employer.
The women's national team's fight in 2017 ensures that players have the opportunity to reclaim their spots on the team's roster, and that they get paid stipends during their time off. When they return, USA Hockey will provide child care. Players don't have to choose between their careers or having a family.
"I think we'll fully appreciate it when we're able to look back and see other players benefit from those benefits," Jocelyne said. "But it's been instrumental in us being able to train the way we need to and have the support from USA Hockey that we do."
"We're extremely fortunate to be able to have the benefits that we do," Monique said. "Joce and I are the first to benefit from those maternity benefits. It's great to have that support from USA Hockey, knowing it's not going to be a financial burden to have a baby, and be pregnant and be away from the team. To know that you have that support, and have a legitimate opportunity to get back on the team, I think that's the resources that all female athletes should have. It's awesome that USA Hockey has taken the charge in that space."
After practice on Monday, Monique and Jocelyne came off the ice to greet their sons in a double-wide stroller. They carried their sons in their arms and brought them out onto the ice for a few laps to end practice:
The transition of going through a pregnancy to returning to playing hockey at a high level isn't an easy one, but Monique and Jocelyne seem to be handling it just fine.
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