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Q&A: Kendall Coyne Schofield on impact of NHL Skills participation, 2019 Women’s Worlds

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EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — It’s been a busy two months for U.S. national team forward Kendall Coyne Schofield. Since her participation in the Fastest Skater competition during the 2019 NHL Skills in San Jose she’s appeared on NBCSN, NHL Network and FOX Sports West as an analyst, spoke on a handful of panels, partnered with adidas and CCM Hockey, played in the Rivalry Series three-game set against Canada, and helped lead the NWHL’s Minnesota Whitecaps to the Isobel Cup.

Now that life has settled down a bit, Coyne Schofield and her U.S. teammates are on Long Island for training camp ahead of the 2019 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Finland from April 4-14. The Americans have won seven of the last eight gold medals at the event, all against Canada, and are gunning for their fifth title in a row.

“It’s been busy but it’s been extremely exciting,” Coyne Schofield told Pro Hockey Talk on Wednesday. “We’re seeing the game grow before our eyes and I think that’s what’s so exciting about everything that has happened from All-Star Weekend.”

Days after clocking in a Fastest Skater time of 14.226 and beating out Clayton Keller of the Arizona Coyotes, Coyne Schofield was on-air during an NBCSN broadcast between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning. While she reached out to a few people for advice beforehand, veterans in the business like our own Kathryn Tappen and FOX’s Laura Okmin provided some support.

She’s since done the same role for a few other games and enjoyed the experience.

“It’s been awesome. I love it,” she said. “It’s so fun to talk about the game that I’m so passionate about, that I love. Just to be able to dissect a hockey game for an audience and for people who love hockey is so much fun.”

As for what’s next, well, that’s a question to be answered after the Worlds. Coyne Schofield said she’s keeping her focus at the moment on helping the U.S. capture gold once again.

We caught up with Coyne Schofield after the team’s opening practice to talk about the impact of her NHL Skills participation, the growth of women’s hockey internationally, and more.

Enjoy.

PHT: During your post-Skills press conference you talked about how your participation would break barriers and change perception about women in hockey. Since then, what’s been the reaction you’ve received in your travels and on social media from young girls and women who saw your Fastest Skater loop?

COYNE SCHOFIELD: “The reaction has been extremely uplifting. Everyone’s seen it, whether it’s directed at me or directed at our game, it’s been extremely positive and eye-opening. I think some people never knew women’s hockey existed before they saw a woman skating a lap on the NHL platform. It’s been amazing but extremely awesome to see all these young girls aspiring to dream big and do something that they never thought could be done before. I think that’s what’s so special.”

PHT: Seeing you, Brianna Decker, Renata Fast, and Rebecca Johnston there taking part opened some eyes around the NHL, and brought up the idea that maybe in the future women could participate fully in All-Star Weekend.

COYNE SCHOFIELD: “Absolutely. I think that’s what was so special about that moment is it opened a lot of doors. In my opinion, the sky’s the limit to this point. I was the first one to compete in one event, but there’s multiple events, there’s a game. The sky’s the limit after the stance the NHL decided to take that night, which I’m so grateful for and I know our sport is grateful for as well. We worked so hard to be put in the conversation to have that moment, and it was just me skating, but it was everyone who allowed that moment to happen in our sport. I hope we see a 3-on-3 team one day and see women competing in every event because there’s so many spectacular players that belong.”

PHT: The Women’s Worlds added two more teams and is up to 10 for the tournament this year. How have you seen the competition improve outside of the U.S./Canada rivalry since your first year playing internationally?

COYNE SCHOFIELD: “It’s grown tremendously. [Going from 8 to 10 teams], that shows the growth, and it’s not just U.S. and Canada anymore. A lot of people have that perception, but if they turn on a game — and our games will be on NHL Network, so they can do that — they’ll notice that the game has grown throughout the entire world.”

PHT: The U.S. has won seven of the previous eight gold medals, all against Canada. You play them in the second game. How important is it to get that game in early in the tournament?

COYNE SCHOFIELD: “It’s important. It’s a game you look forward to but you have to take it one game at a time. You can’t look past Finland in their home country at the World Championship stage. We’re focused on Finland for Game 1 and then we’ll shift our focus to Canada. It’s a long tournament, and we get an extra game — more hockey, which is super exciting. We’re really looking forward to it because it’s year one of four, and whoever’s there in year four, we’re consistently building starting year one to peak in year four.”

PHT: What are the biggest strengths of this group?

COYNE SCHOFIELD: “It’s everyone’s compete level, everyone’s will to want to win, and everyone’s so proud to represent Team USA. It’s such a good, hard-working group, whether it’s your first World Championship or their 10th, everyone’s here for the same goal and everyone’s able to own their role. It’s just an awesome group to be a part of.”

PHT: Sometimes new blood is good for a team but this is a very veteran team. That has to be big for the group in order to keep the momentum of the last few years going.

COYNE SCHOFIELD: “Oh, definitely. For a while we felt like we were chasing and now we feel like we’re the ones being chased. As veteran players, we need to make sure the younger players don’t feel like younger players because they’re not. If you made it to this level you’re not a younger player, you’re an elite level player and you belong here. Everyone can bring their own special talent and we put it all together and that’s what makes us Team USA and the best team in the world.”

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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.

Schwartz, Tarasenko have Blues close to Cup Final

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Jaden Schwartz is on a scoring run that has the St. Louis Blues dreaming big.

Schwartz’s hat trick in Game 5 on Sunday helped give the Blues a 3-2 series lead against the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference final and set the single-season franchise record for playoff wins.

The Blues could advance to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1970 when they host Game 6 Tuesday night.

”It’s probably tough to put into words,” Schwartz said. ”It’s something that everyone’s worked for and dreamed about. You don’t want to look too far ahead. We all know how important and how hard that last win’s going to be. It would be a dream come true.”

Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko have played huge roles in the Blues’ playoff success. Just not necessarily in the way that was expected.

Tarasenko has come up with more big assists than goals against the Sharks.

Meanwhile, Schwartz has found a scoring touch that eluded him during the regular season. After scoring 11 goals in 69 regular-season games, Schwartz has 12 goals in 18 playoff games.

”He’s obviously a tenacious player, a hard-working player,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. ”I know, goal-wise, he didn’t have a good regular season, but the work ethic was there and other things besides not producing with the goals.

”He’s a 200-foot player for us and he’s around the net for us, that’s where he scores. His hard work, being relentless and staying with it is paying off.”

Schwartz’s scoring run began on a quick pass from Tyler Bozak with 15 seconds left in regulation to snap a 2-2 tie in Game 5 in the first round against Winnipeg. He followed that up with a hat trick in Game 6 to send the Blues to the second round.

Schwartz is the first player to have two hat tricks in the same playoffs since Johan Franzen did it for Detroit in 2008 and he is the first to do it for the Blues.

Not bad for a guy who went 23 games without a goal during the regular season.

”He’s obviously been kind of our engine and a guy that’s scored huge goals for us throughout every series,” Bozak said.

”Pucks weren’t going in as much as he probably wanted in the regular season, but he was still playing really good hockey I thought and getting a lot of chances. And obviously what he’s done in this playoffs so far has been incredible. We’re pretty lucky to have him and we know he’s just going to keep getting better and keep doing those things for us.”

Tarasenko is the only player to get a point in every game of the Western Conference Final. But just two of his seven points in the series are goals.

Instead he has become a potent playmaker, setting up Bozak’s eventual game-winning goal in Game 4 and assisting on two of Schwartz’s goals in Game 5.

”Every time he gets the puck he puts them on edge,” Blues center Ryan O'Reilly said. ”Having such a shot like he does, teams are scared when he gets the puck and obviously they maybe will overcompensate for that and other things come available. Having played with him throughout the year, you see how dangerous he is whether it’s taking that shot or just being that threat that opens so much up.”

Tarasenko’s unselfish play was evident on Schwartz’s third goal. Carrying the puck on the power play, he could have taken a shot. But with San Jose playing the shot, he found Schwartz cutting towards the net for a one-timer into a wide-open net.

”Vlady is a good passer, he makes plays,” Berube said. ”He’s got his head up a lot, sees the ice well. His hard work is paying off. He’s working hard without the puck, and he’s a powerful guy.”

Tarasenko has led the Blues in goals in each of the past five seasons. Though he has taken a back seat to Schwartz in goal-scoring, the Blues are thriving in the postseason as never before from his playmaking ability.

And they are one win away from playing for the Stanley Cup, which many thought would have been impossible on Jan. 3 when the Blues were at the bottom of the NHL standings.

”Everyone knows we have a lot of work to do and we’re going to get their best game,” Schwartz said. ”They’re going to have the most desperation they’ve had in this series. We’ll enjoy it tonight, but we know there’s a lot of work yet.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Bruins’ Chara says he’s on track for Stanley Cup Final

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BOSTON (AP) — Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara returned to practice and worked out with the full squad Monday, his first such workout since sitting out Boston’s Eastern Conference-clinching victory over Carolina with an undisclosed injury.

Chara had skated prior to practices over the weekend but didn’t participate in any full sessions. He said he felt good after the Bruins’ 45-minute workout on Monday and is on track to play in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on May 27.

Chara was the first player on the ice Monday. Forward David Krejci also returned to practice. Coach Bruce Cassidy said Krejci was given a ”maintenance day” on Sunday.

Being a spectator for a series-clinching victory was difficult for the 42-year-old Chara. He was a member of the Bruins, who defeated Vancouver to win the Stanley Cup in 2011 and lost to Chicago in the Cup Final in 2013.

”It was, I’m not gonna lie,” Chara said. ”Watching games are not fun. You want to play them, you want to be involved in them. It was that feeling of an anxiousness to play. But the guys did a great job.”

But Chara was easy to spot following the Game 4 win over the Hurricanes, when he suited up to shake hands with Carolina and celebrate on the ice with his teammates.

He has one goal and two assists in 16 games this postseason.

Patrice Bergeron said having Chara paired back up with Charlie McAvoy provides a major boost to the blue line.

”I think they complement each other really well,” Bergeron said. ”Obviously the experience that ‘Z’ has is something that he shares. And Chuck is the type of young guy that wants to learn and listen to everything that ‘Z’ has to share.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Tarasenko getting hot at right time for Blues

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It was only a matter of time until Vladimir Tarasenko started to get on a roll for the St. Louis Blues.

Not only has he been the team’s best and most impactful player for the past five years, he has been one of the most dangerous postseason goal-scorers the league has ever seen. As we wrote at the start of the series, he was going to be one of the biggest keys for the Blues in the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks, especially if his puck luck started to change a little bit.

It has definitely changed for the better, and the Blues are greatly benefitting from it.

First, just a reminder as to how good Tarasenko has been in the playoffs during his career. Before this season his 0.50 goals per game average in the playoffs was second among all players that had appeared in at least 40 playoff games since 2010-11 (trailing only Jake Guentzel), and was among the top-20 in NHL history. The only other players in the top-20 that played in the NHL after 2002 are Alex Ovechkin and Mike Cammallerri.

If you want to call him “clutch,” or a “big-game player” that is entirely up to you, but even more than any of that it is really just a matter of him being an outstanding talent that has always been a great finisher. Get him the puck and enough chances, and he is going to score a lot of goals no matter what the situation is.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

That is what made his production through the first two rounds of the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs a little surprising. He was definitely not playing poorly, but his overall numbers were down a little bit, he was relying almost entirely on the power play to score goals (four of his first five goals in the first two rounds were power play goals), and he had yet to record a single assist. Obviously power play goals are worth the same as any other goal, but with penalties and power plays not always being available come playoff time due to the “let them play” mindset that takes over at this time of year, even-strength scoring becomes even more important.

Despite all of that were still plenty of signs that Tarasenko was due to break out. He had 47 shots on goal in 13 games (more than 3.5 per game) and the Blues were dominating the shot attempt and scoring chance numbers at even-strength. He was doing everything right except consistently putting the puck in the back of the net. But when you have an all-world talent like Tarasenko does, it is only a matter of time until those attempts, shots, and chances start to turn into goals.

You might limit players like him for a little bit, but you are not going to be able to shut them down forever.

Starting with Game 1 of the Western Conference Final, Tarasenko’s luck started to turn a bit.

After his three-point effort on Sunday in the Blues’ 5-0 win, a performance that included his nearly unstoppable penalty shot goal in the second period to help put the game away, he is now riding a five-game point streak and has at least one point in every game of the series.

He was probably the Blues’ best player in their Game 2 win when he finished with a game-high six shots on goal and set up Jaden Schwartz‘s goal early in the first period, and then assisted on Tyler Bozak‘s game-winning goal in Game 4 to even the series. He followed that up by playing his best game of the playoffs on Sunday with three points (his second multi-point game of these playoffs) in the win that brought the Blues one game closer to the Stanley Cup Final.

His seven points in the series are two more than any other player on the team while he has been on the ice for nine of the Blues’ 18 goals (literally half of them) in the series.

If the Blues were going to put themselves in a position to win this series — which they have if they can win just one of the next two games — they were going to need Tarasenko to be one of their best and most productive players.

He has been with what has been his best five-game stretch of these playoffs.

The timing could not have been better for the Blues.

MORE: Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

‘Canes surge into summer with confidence after playoff run

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Hurricanes enter the offseason confident of one thing: They shouldn’t have to wait another decade to return to the playoffs.

They hope their nucleus will make postseason appearances an every-year thing.

The Hurricanes made their first playoff berth since 2009 last much longer than most expected, advancing to the Eastern Conference final before they were swept by the Boston Bruins.

After getting a taste of postseason hockey, this largely young team wants to do it again.

”I think we all know now what it takes first of all to get to the playoffs, and to go through those tough series,” forward Sebastian Aho said Monday. ”Now we’re even more hungry.”

There’s reason to believe this group has staying power.

The entire defensive corps – including young stars Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce – is under team control for next season, with six of them signed and Haydn Fleury a pending restricted free agent.

Key winger Teuvo Teravainen is locked up through 2023-24. Promising forward Andrei Svechnikov oozed with promise during his rookie season. Aho, who also will be a restricted free agent, looks to be a candidate to receive a long-term deal. He declined to discuss his contract status.

This core was responsible for turning the franchise around and bringing entertainment – both during and after games – to the rink.

They brought back those beloved Hartford Whalers uniforms for a couple of games. They broke out the ”Storm Surge” celebrations, those choreographed on-ice parties after regular-season victories at home. They wore the jabs from curmudgeonly commentator Don Cherry as badges of honor – plastering his ”Bunch of Jerks” insult onto T-shirts that sold for $32 at the team shop. They welcomed a live pig named Hamilton into the building for home playoff games.

And, of course, they played winning hockey – especially after the calendar flipped to January. Their record of 31-12-2 was third-best in the league and propelled them from last place in the division to the top wild-card berth.

”As the year went on, as the record shows, it was a lot of good results, and coming to the rink was a lot of fun,” defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk said.

A few things to watch entering the offseason:

THE CAPTAIN’S FUTURE

The big question is whether 37-year-old Justin Williams will return for a second season as team captain with his two-year contract expiring this offseason. The three-time Stanley Cup winner known around the league as ”Mr. Game 7” for his exploits in those final games brought credibility and leadership to the dressing room and helped steer the young team’s midseason turnaround. ”I put everything I had into it this year, and if I have everything again, then I’ll be here,” Williams said. ”I haven’t gotten that far yet.”

THE GOALIES

The Hurricanes have some decisions to make with both goalies – Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney – facing free agency. Mrazek accepted a one-year, $1.5 million deal last offseason to prove he’s worthy of a starter’s job, and the team snatched the 35-year-old McElhinney off the waiver wire when Scott Darling was hurt. They both played well enough to make Darling an afterthought, and now the question is whether either or both will wind up sticking around.

FREE AGENCY

The only other unrestricted free agents on the roster are forwards Micheal Ferland and Greg McKegg. Ferland provided a strong physical presence on the ice, but he didn’t score any goals after February and had a single assist in the playoffs. The Hurricanes should have some money to spend when July 1 rolls around. According to salary tracking website CapFriendly.com, Carolina had the most room under the salary cap ($16.2 million) of any team in the league.

SPECIAL TEAMS FIX

Carolina has plenty of work to do on its power play, which led to the team’s undoing against Boston. The Hurricanes scored on less than 10% of their postseason chances with the man advantage – the worst rate of any team that reached the second round – and went stretches of 24 and 13 consecutive power plays without scoring. During the regular season, they scored on nearly 18% of their chances to rank 20th in the league.

More AP NHL: http://www.apnews.com/NHL and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Sports