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Swedish women blindsided by decision to cancel Four Nations Cup, Canada and USA will fill the void with games

Sweden's top women's hockey players are boycotting their national team because they are unhappy over pay and working conditions. Now, the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation has put a stop to the upcoming Four Nations Cup.

The union that represents professional women’s player in Sweden was shocked to learn Friday that the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation decided to cancel the upcoming Four Nations Cup. And there’s a good reason for that, according to Klara Stenberg, who is responsible for women players at the Swedish players’ association.

“The federation didn’t talk to the players before they cancelled the tournament in Lulea,” Stenberg told in a telephone interview. “The players did not tell the federation they won’t play. They just said they can’t give the federation an answer (right away), but the federation made the decision all by itself to cancel the tournament.”

Phone and text messages to Tommy Boustedt, the general secretary of the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation, were not returned.

So let’s back up here for a moment. The national team players in Sweden have been in a dispute with their federation over two main issues, namely lost wages from their day jobs when they attend camps and tournaments to represent their countries and the fact they have no insurance when they are playing for Team Sweden. The two sides were in negotiations and Stenberg said the federation presented the players with a proposal Thursday, one that did not include a resolution on either issue. She claims that when the players said they could not give an answer right away, it cancelled the tournament, which is scheduled for Lulea Nov. 5-9.

And it’s almost certainly going to stay cancelled. The dispute prompted the women to boycott a Five Nations Tournament in Finland in August and the federation apparently did not want to see a repeat of that. So it pulled the plug. This will not hurt Canada or USA in any way because, in reality, playing in this tournament is something of a chore for both countries, which usually end up playing each other in the final anyway. Hockey Canada chief operating officer Scott Smith said his organization and USA Hockey have already been discussing filling the void by playing two or three games against one another in North America. “Well in advance of the season, we notify all of our partners what the national team schedule is,” Smith said. “We let them know we want players for a week-to-10-day period. Given the fact that we’ve got that block, we want to use that. We’ve just got to find a location to play some games.”

So who are the biggest losers here? Well certainly the Swedish women, who are making what seems to be a reasonable ask of their national federation. At a time when Swedish women’s hockey is struggling – the team finished ninth at the 2019 World Championship and has been relegated to the Division I World Championship for 2020 – this group of players misses out on the development opportunity of playing the best players in the world.

But the real losers here are the Finns, the team that beat Canada in the semifinal of the 2019 World Championship and was robbed of a gold medal after a Finnish overtime goal was called back on the kind of goaltender interference call that defied logic even by International Ice Hockey Federation standards. And that’s saying something. The Finns have a lot of positive momentum going with their women’s program and will miss the chance to test themselves against Canada and USA going into the 2020 World Women’s Championship in March and April in Halifax.

This is indeed an interesting, albeit turbulent, time for women’s hockey around the world. About 200 of the top players in the world are boycotting professional hockey this season – though it’s important to note that those players would have played for their countries in the Four Nations Cup and will participate in the World Women’s Championship – until a feasible, one-league professional format is established. The players have announced a ‘Dream Gap Tour’ that will include games in Toronto next weekend and in New Hampshire and Chicago in October.

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