Kendall Coyne Schofield and more than 200 of the world's top female hockey players who have pledged to not compete in North America this season are launching what's being called "The Dream Gap Tour,'' the newly formed Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association announced Wednesday.
It's essentially a barnstorming tour made up of PWHPA members seeking to bring the sport's stakeholders -- including the NHL, USA Hockey and Hockey Canada -- to the table to establish a single league with a sustainable economic model, featuring the world's top talent, and pay a livable wage and include health care.
Coyne Schofield, a two-time U.S. Olympian forward, recalled how her dreams of playing hockey ended at college, or maybe the Winter Games. Playing professionally was never part of the equation.
"You always grow up and hear boys say, 'I want to be a pro hockey player one day.' You don't hear little girls saying that. They say, 'I want to go to the Olympics,''' Coyne Schofield told The Associated Press by phone Tuesday. "That's the pinnacle of our sport. I can't make a living playing this sport. ... So when I graduate college, I either go to the Olympic Games or get a job.''
The tour's first stop will be in Toronto on Sept. 20-22, followed by an event in Hudson, New Hampshire, on Oct. 4-6 and Chicago on Oct. 18-20. The union also announced its members will play exhibition games against Boston College on Sept. 21 and against the Sharks' alumni in San Jose on Sept. 22.
Additional tour stops are being considered but not yet finalized, including Southern California and Buffalo, New York. Adidas is among the sponsors already on board, and the players are also backed by Billie Jean King Enterprises.
The stops will feature about 80 players split into four teams playing a three-game round-robin tournament followed by a championship game, and will include youth clinics.
The Canadian Women's Hockey League folded for financial reasons last spring. That left the U.S.-based, five-team National Women's Hockey League as North America's only pro women's league. It is privately backed and has endured financial struggles since being established in 2015.
The tour is considered the union's coming-out party, and will feature players wearing jerseys with PWHPA logos.
"We're not talking about millions of dollars here. We just want to be able to live and train full-time, and see how far we can take this game,'' said defenseman Alyssa Gagliardi, who has played in both the CWHL and NWHL. "For so long, it's only been limited to the girls on the national team that can truly do that full-time, so this is kind of broadening that.''
Billie Jean King entered the picture to provide guidance. On Monday, she was joined by five female hockey Olympians, including Coyne Schofield, at the US Open.
Having blazed a trail in starting a women's professional tennis tour in 1970, King sees an overlap in other sports.
"We envisioned a world where any girl, if she is good enough, would have a place to compete, would be appreciated for her skills and accomplishments, and could make a living playing professional tennis,'' King said. "Today, almost 50 years later, the women of professional hockey, soccer and other sports are facing the same situation, and our vision has not changed. Everyone should be able to have the dream and the opportunity to earn a living playing the sport they love.''
Coyne Schofield said it's long past time the best female players from around the world have the opportunity to showcase their talents in one league.
"We can't just keep accepting the fact that we're grateful for an opportunity [of playing professionally],'' Coyne Schofield said. "We're done being grateful, and we need to stand up for what we know is right. Because if we don't stand up today and fight for what's right, we're setting up the future to fail.''