Coyne Schofield’s NHL All-Star Skills participation makes big statement

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SAN JOSE — It was Kendall Coyne Schofield’s test loop on Thursday that got the idea rolling.

The U.S. women’s national team player was in San Jose, along teammate Brianna Decker, and Rebecca Johnston and Renata Fast of Canada, to help demonstrate the NHL All-Star Skills events. On Thursday she did a test lap of the Fastest Skater and clocked in at 14.226 seconds. With Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon pulling out of the weekend due to a sore foot, an idea was hatched.

Full of nervous energy and adrenaline, Coyne Schofield went first and as the SAP Center crowd showered her with U-S-A! chants she took over and blazed to a time of 14.346, finishing ahead of Clayton Keller (14.526) of the Arizona Coyotes.

“Obviously, I was a little nervous, but I knew it was a moment that was going to break a lot of barriers and a moment that would change the perception of our game and show support to our game,” Coyne Schofield said. “It was so exciting.”

When she finished, she received a well-earned standing ovation. The Olympic gold medalist and five-time World Champion helped opened a door that could see the NHL include women in the actual All-Star Skills events in the future.

“I think today the NHL made that statement and I was fortunate enough to be a part of a lot of people pushing for it, a lot of hard conversations that have been had,” she said “I’m thankful for the opportunity and I think it went pretty well.”

Coyne Schofield’s speed didn’t just impress the sold out crowd, she also had NHLers throwing their support behind her.

“When she took off, I was like, ‘Wow!'” said Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid, who won the event for the third year in a row with a time of 13.378. “I thought she might have won the way she was moving. She was a really good skater and that was an amazing thing for the game to see her participate like that in an event like this.”

“She beat me so she’s doing something right,” Keller said. “She’s really fast. I was surprised. It was great to see that. It was a great experience for the NHL to have her do that event. It was really cool.”

The NHL is always looking for ways to improve the All-Star Skills event and going forward it shouldn’t be a difficult decision to include women on the teams and have them participate. Growing the game is a big priority on the league’s to-do list and this a good place to start.

Next up for Coyne Schofield, who also plays for the NWHL’s Minnesota Whitecaps, and her U.S. teammates is a three-game series against Canada in February with games in Detroit, Toronto and London, Ont. The final matchup will take place Feb. 17 at Little Caesars Arena as part of Hockey Week Across America.

It’s been quite a year for Coyne Schofield. Eleven months ago the U.S. team was celebrating an Olympic gold medal in Pyeongchang. She got married over the summer. In November, the Americans won their fourth straight Four Nations Cup. And now Friday night she became the first woman to participate in the NHL All-Star Skills event. 

This wasn’t the first time Coyne Schofield broken down a barrier. Over the summer she became the first woman to play in the Chicago Pro Hockey League, which featured a number of NHLers like Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat and Brandon Saad of the Chicago Blackhawks. She held her own and that drive to make an impact in the lives of young hockey playing girls continues.

“I would say especially to young girls, to women, follow your dreams, believe in yourselves and there’s nothing you can’t accomplish,” she said. “I think tonight was an example of that.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.