By Karen Price | Feb. 01, 2019, 4:46 p.m. (ET)

(R) Kendall Coyne Schofield high fives fellow hockey players at the NHL All-Star Skills Competition on Jan. 25, 2019 in San Jose, Calif.

 

Between winning an Olympic gold medal, getting married to Los Angeles Chargers offensive guard Michael Schofield and buying a house, U.S. women’s ice hockey team forward Kendall Coyne Schofield didn’t think anything could top the milestones of 2018.

Twenty-five days into January 2019 she was beginning to wonder.

“This whole week has been hard to put into words,” said Coyne Schofield, who just one week ago Friday launched into a barrier-smashing handful of days.

It all started when, just four hours before the NHL All-Star Skills Competition in San Jose, California, she was invited to compete in the fastest skater contest, replacing injured Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon. This made her the first woman to take part in the annual skills competition pitting the NHL’s top performers against one another in contests including hardest shot, accuracy shooting, puck control and others.

Coyne Schofield finished seventh out of eight skaters.

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After that moment caused such a reaction, she was invited to be part of NBCSN’s broadcast team for the nationwide airing of Wednesday’s game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins. She served as an analyst as part of the network’s pre-game, intermission and in-game coverage, and while she wasn’t the first woman to do so she is part of a very small handful to take part in NHL national television game coverage.

The response, she said, has been immense, and perhaps none has been so moving as the words from young women and girls.

“I’ve shed a few tears,” said Coyne Schofield, who won an Olympic silver medal with Team USA in 2014 before claiming gold in PyeongChang. “It’s been overwhelming and inspiring and it’s made me a better person. It’s made me want to do more and help as much as I can help, but ultimately the response to (skating in the skills competition) is what has broken the barrier. It’s not me physically doing the skating but the response to the skating. It’s changed the way people perceive the game and it’s changed people who may have never seen women’s hockey before or even knew it existed. Now they do. It’s an amazing start and it’s only going to grow.”

Becoming the first woman to compete in the skills competition wasn’t exactly something Coyne Schofield grew up dreaming about or expected to happen one day in her career, but being the only woman in a field is nothing new for her.

The 26-year-old from Palos Heights, Illinois, grew up as many of her teammates and women’s hockey players across the country did, as one of the only — if not the only — girl playing on boys’ teams and in boys’ leagues. In that regard, going up against the likes of three-time winner Connor McDavid, of the Edmonton Oilers, and the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Cam Atkinson, who won bronze with Team USA at the 2018 world championship, wasn’t very different. 

Stepping to the starting line at an official NHL competition with an arena full of fans cheering, for her was, however, a bit surreal. 

“I was so excited,” she said. “Right before I started, I got to the line and the whole place erupted and got super loud and everyone started chanting, ‘USA! USA!’” she said. “I was in my starting position and the ref said I had a few seconds, so I just took it all in. It was an incredible moment. Then the whistle blew, it was time to go and 14.346 seconds later the world was shocked, barriers were broken and people changed the way they perceive girls and women in hockey forever.”

Coyne Schofield finished just behind Atkinson, in sixth place with a time of 14.152 seconds, and just ahead of Clayton Keller of the Phoenix Coyotes, whose time was 14.526.

Then came the invite to join the NBCSN team for a game and Coyne Schofield, who majored in communications at Northeastern University and had reported on the men’s hockey team while in school, was thrilled yet again. 

The aftermath of the broadcast took a bit of a turn when a comment made to Coyne Schofield by Pierre McGuire noting that Tampa would be on the left and Pittsburgh the right during pre-game coverage went viral as viewers accused him of “mansplaining.” Both she and McGuire addressed the backlash on Thursday, with Coyne Schofield responding on social media that she’d known McGuire for years and didn’t doubt his respect for her but understood why people interpreted it as inappropriate, and McGuire issuing a statement declaring his utmost respect for her as a world-class athlete, an analyst and a role model.

Despite that, Coyne Schofield said she hopes to have more opportunities in the future, particularly after her playing career is over, to explore broadcasting. 

“It was the most fun I’ve had besides playing in a hockey game,” said Coyne Schofield, who plays for the first-place Minnesota Whitecaps of the National Women’s Hockey League. “As nervous as I was, I couldn’t believe I was having that much fun. I couldn’t sleep after the game and even (Thursday) I was thinking about how I could get better, playing the coulda-woulda-shoulda game and wanting to watch film and pick it apart to see where I could get better. It fueled me in such a positive way.”

Coyne Schofield was quick to point out, however, that although she may be the one in the spotlight right now, this was all thanks to the efforts by all the members of the U.S. women’s hockey team. Without their skill and dedication and showcasing the women’s game over and over again, she said, there never would have been a conversation about whether or not women could compete with men.

And without the NHL giving her a chance, she said, she never would have had the opportunity to show that they could. 

“People have that perception that the women’s game is drastically different than the men’s because of the no hitting rule and because we wear cages, but besides those two main differences the game is played the same with the same skills, the same speed, the same heart and the same talent,” she said. “People were able to see that on Friday night. I think that’s what’s so special about this moment, even looking back on it a week later and hearing from so many people and hearing things like, ‘My son wants to be as fast as you.’ Those moments really hit me because that’s something in our society no one would say 10 years ago. To start looking at the game equally is a huge step forward.”

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.