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.

Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

Andrei Kuzmenko
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.

Hurricanes top Stars in OT to win matchup of 1st-place teams

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DALLAS – Martin Necas scored 1:34 into overtime to give the Carolina Hurricanes a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars in a matchup of division leaders Wednesday night.

Sebastian Aho had a short-handed goal and Brent Burns also scored for the Hurricanes, who lead the Metropolitan Division in the Eastern Conference. The game-winner was Necas’ 19th goal this season.

Dallas is still atop the Western Conference, and the Central Division, after its second consecutive 3-2 overtime loss at home. Jason Robertson scored his 33rd goal for the Stars, and 19-year-old rookie Wyatt Johnston got his 13th.

Carolina goalie Frederik Andersen didn’t return after the first intermission because of an upper-body injury, soon after a strange sequence that ended with Robertson scoring on a shot from what seemed to be an impossible angle.

The puck was bouncing on the ice behind Andersen and settled against the post after Tyler Seguin‘s shot before the goalie was able to swipe it away to his right. Robertson then shot from behind Andersen, and the puck apparently ricocheted off him and into the net for a 2-1 Dallas lead. Robertson’s 33rd goal matched his assists total.

Antti Raanta replaced Andersen and stopped all 15 shots he faced – none in overtime – after the starter had four saves. Raanta had to shake off getting struck in the head by Mason Marchment‘s stick when the Stars forward was behind the net fighting for the puck midway through the third period.

Stars goalie Jake Oettinger stopped 22 shots, including a glove save of Andrei Svechnikov‘s wrister with just more than five minutes left in regulation.

Aho’s 200th career goal put Carolina up 1-0 midway through the first period. The Stars got even just more than two minutes later when Johnston scored unassisted after a faceoff.

Johnston also had a shot ricochet off the post with just under six minutes left.

In between the first two goals, Oettinger went into a fully extended split, with his right skate against the post, to deny Paul Stastny‘s attempt to knock in a loose puck.

Burns tied the game at 2 in the second period, getting the puck after a faceoff, then skating over the top of the circle and scoring top shelf over Oettinger’s left shoulder.

NOTES: Marchment was coming out of the penalty box at the same time Carolina made an errant pass in the second period. He had a breakaway attempt, but couldn’t get enough control of the puck to get off a quality shot. … Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce and Stars center Luke Glendening both got five-minute penalties for fighting in the second period.

UP NEXT

Hurricanes: Will play San Jose on Friday night in the first of three consecutive home games.

Stars: Host the New Jersey Devils on Friday night in their last game before the All-Star break.

Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry out until after the All-Star break

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PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry‘s on-again, off-again season is now off again.

Coach Mike Sullivan said that the two-time All-Star will miss at least two games with an upper-body injury.

Jarry was scheduled to start against Florida but reported an upper-body issue when he arrived at PPG Paints Arena. Casey DeSmith got the last-second start as the Penguins pulled out a wild 7-6 victory over the Panthers.

Jarry is out through at least the All-Star break. Pittsburgh plays at Washington and then hosts San Jose before getting a full week off.

The 27-year-old Jarry has played well when he’s been in the lineup, posting a 16-5-5 record with a 2.65 goals-against average in 27 games. His availability, however, has been an issue of late. He missed more than two weeks earlier this month after being injured against Boston in the Winter Classic on Jan. 2.

The Penguins are not as sharp when Jarry is out. Pittsburgh is 8-10-3 with DeSmith or Dustin Tokarski in goal this season. The Penguins recalled Tokarski from their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to back up DeSmith during Jarry’s absence.

Letang scores twice in return, Penguins beat Panthers 7-6 in OT

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PITTSBURGH – Amid a nightmarish season off the ice, Kris Letang has been searching for joy. A sense of normalcy.

He found a little of both.

The veteran Pittsburgh defenseman scored twice in his return from a lower-body injury, the second with 54 seconds left in overtime to give the Penguins a 7-6 victory over Florida.

“I was just happy to be out there,” Letang said. “Be in the atmosphere of the team.”

Letang’s 17th season with Pittsburgh has been pockmarked by health issues and a profound sense of loss. He missed two weeks after suffering the second stroke of his career shortly after Thanksgiving. He then tweaked something in a loss to Detroit on Dec. 28.

His father died unexpectedly a few days later, and Letang spent an extended amount of time with his family in his native Montreal, with his teammates making an unexpected stop to join Letang for his father’s wake at the end of a West Coast swing earlier this month.

The Penguins activated him off injured reserve on Tuesday afternoon. Letang responded with four points in a rollicking game that featured 13 goals, the last Letang’s one-timer from just above the left circle on the power play that gave Pittsburgh just its fourth win in 12 overtime games this season.

“It was kind of surreal, you know?” Letang said. “I didn’t know what to think or how it was going to go. These guys supported me for the last month… it’s just great to be back.”

The Penguins, currently in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, opened up a small bit of breathing room over the ninth-place Panthers by beating Florida for the 18th time in its last 21 trips to Pittsburgh.

Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Danton Heinen each had a goal and two assists for The Penguins. Rickard Rakell and Drew O'Connor also scored for the Penguins.

Casey DeSmith struggled in place of Tristan Jarry, a late scratch with an upper-body injury. DeSmith stopped 33 shots, including both he faced in overtime, to win for the third time in his last 10 starts.

“That was a huge two points for us,” DeSmith said. “Obviously we’re battling with them in the standings. Character win at home.”

Carter Verhaeghe scored twice for Florida, including a tying goal with 2:32 left in regulation. Aaron Ekblad had a goal and two assists. Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Reinhart each had a goal and an assist. Colin White‘s sixth goal of the season 4:10 into the third gave the Panthers the lead but Florida couldn’t hold it.

Alex Lyon made 42 saves after getting the start when Spencer Knight was unavailable for reasons head coach Paul Maurice would not disclose. The Panthers are 7-3-2 since January 1 to surge back into the fringe of contention.

“We’re so much more of a different hockey team than we were a month ago at this time,” Maurice said. “Rallied around each other, battled as hard as they could to get a point on the road in the circumstances that we’re in. I couldn’t be more proud.”

Neither Lyon or DeSmith – who got the heads up he was playing less than an hour before the opening faceoff – appeared quite ready to play on short notice. They gave up a six goals – three by each team – during a frantic first period that included Letang’s first goal since Dec. 15 and Tkachuk’s 25th of the season.

Things settled down in the second. Ekblad’s short-handed goal put the Panthers in front but Crosby knotted the game at 4-4 with a pretty backhand through Lyon’s legs with 40 seconds to go in the period to set up a hectic third in which both teams squandered one-goal leads.

“It wasn’t pretty but you need to find ways to win sometimes,” Crosby said. “We did a good job of that here today.”

UP NEXT

Panthers: Host Angeles on Friday night.

Penguins: At Washington on Thursday night.