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Top women hockey players announce series of tournaments

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Growing up, Kendall Coyne Schofield recalled how her dreams of playing hockey ended at college, or maybe the Winter Games – something the two-time U.S. Olympian forward eventually would achieve.

Playing professionally was never part of the equation, which is something Coyne Schofield remembers once mentioning to former American star Cammi Granato, noting how girls can only win gold medals while boys can win Stanley Cups.

”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 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.”

Coyne Schofield and more than 200 of the world’s top female players who have pledged to not compete in North America this season are determined to change that notion.

They’re launching what’s being called ”The Dream Gap Tour,” announced by the newly formed Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association on Wednesday. The gap represents the missing link young girls have in their dreams of ever playing professionally.

The tour’s first stop will be in Toronto from 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. Among the sponsors already on board are Adidas, 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 include youth clinics.

It’s essentially a barn-storming tour made up of PWHPA members seeking to bring the sports’ 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.

The boycott and the union were born out of the demise of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, which folded due to 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 feature players wearing jerseys with PWHPA logos.

”We’re not talking about millions of dollars here. We just want to be able 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.”

Growing up in Raleigh, North Carolina, Gagliardi had no role models to look up to except for tuning in to the Winter Games every four years. She’s looking forward to making a positive impression on young female hockey players during the tour.

”This is what we’re fighting for,” Gagliardi said. ”I think we want to really make sure this stays with them for the rest of their lives, and by the time they’re graduating college there’s a place for them to play.”

Billie Jean King entered the picture to provide guidance. On Monday, she was joined by five female hockey Olympians, including Coyne Schofield, at the U.S. Open, where they posed for a picture posted on King’s Twitter account hinting at the Dream Gap Tour announcement.

Having blazed a trail in starting women’s professional tennis 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 was so excited to meet King that she took in her exhibit at Arthur Ashe Stadium and even bought a King doll at the gift shop.

King’s message, however, is what resonated most.

”She always says, ‘If you see it, you can be it,”’ Coyne Schofield said, reflecting on watching Serena Williams compete and seeing the picture of the original nine professional tennis players including King who formed the first women’s tour. ”For me, that was the moment when I saw it. She built this and we’re literally living in it. And you know what, we have the opportunity to do that.”

She 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.”

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.

Kendall Coyne Schofield talks All-Star Skills, bubble hockey with Penguins’ Dumoulin

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Prior to setting a blistering time around the rink at the NHL All-Star Skills this past weekend, Kendall Coyne Schofield made sure Connor McDavid was in the same boat as she was.

“I asked him if he was nervous,” Coyne Schofield told the broadcast team on NBCSN prior to Wednesday Night Hockey. “He said he was, so that made me feel a little better. I got to the starting line and the crowd just erupted.”

The chants of ‘USA, USA’ and the rest of the yelling and screaming help propel Coyne around the rink, and then it came: a 14.346-second lap, just a second off McDavid’s time and faster that Arizona’s Clayton Keller, who also participated.

“It was go time,” she said.

McDavid may have won the event, but Coyne Schofield won the hearts of the hockey community.

Coyne, who currently plays for the Minnesota Whitecaps of the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), became the first woman to compete in an NHL All-Star Skills and along with fellow U.S. National team member Briana Decker who participated in the Premier Passer event, stole the show.

In fact, it was so inspiring that NBC hired Coyne Schofield to be an analyst on Wednesday night during the game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“This past weekend has just been incredible,” she said. “Just to see the barriers that have been broken, the historic moment that was made and the response… just seeing all of those messages, young girls picking up skates for the first time, young boys saying I want to be as fast as her. It changed the way society views women and specifically women and girl’s hockey. It’s just been tremendous.”

Part of Coyne Schofield’s assignment on Wednesday was playing a little bubble hockey with Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin.

She won, of course.

The two have a little in common. Coyne Schofield attended Northeastern while Dumoulin attended rival Boston College. Both played in the Beanpot Tournament, which pits Boston University, Boston College, Harvard University and Northeastern in a two-round tournament for state bragging rights.

Dumoulin is a three-time winner of the tourney, while Coyne Schofield won it twice.

Coyne Schofield will go between the glass with Pierre McGuire during Wednesday’s game, along with providing analysis during both intermissions with play-by-play man, John Forslund.

Her chance to shine isn’t too far off, either.

Coyne Schofield and the rest of her USA teammates are gearing up for the 2019 Rivalry Series against Canada. The three-game series takes place in Toronto and London, Ont., with the final in taking place at Little Caesars Arena on Feb. 17 as part of Hockey Week Across America.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

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.