A Whirlwind Year for the Fastest Woman in Hockey
SASKATOON, Saskatchewan — Kendall Coyne Schofield abruptly gasped with delight. She held up her phone to photograph a Great Dane padding in the lobby of Saskatoon’s Delta Bessborough hotel.
“My sister-in-law has the exact same-colored dog,” said Coyne Schofield, 26, the American women’s hockey team star.
It was a rare distraction for Coyne Schofield, whose eyes have been fixed on her professional and personal goals this year. A five-time world champion, she won her first Olympic gold medal in February, when the United States defeated its archrival Canada, 3-2, in a dramatic final shootout that ended the Canadians’ reign as the four-time Olympic champions.
Coyne Schofield, a 5-foot-2, 125-pound left wing, did not slow down after participating in a two-week victory tour that included stops at “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and the New York Stock Exchange.
In June, she competed on “American Ninja Warrior.” In July, she married Michael Schofield, a 2016 Super Bowl champion with the Denver Broncos who is now an offensive guard for the Los Angeles Chargers. In August, she became the first woman to play in the Chicago Professional Hockey League, facing N.H.L. stars like Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks. In October, she was inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame and also became the first woman to receive the Stan Mikita Lifetime Achievement Award. And her favorite ice cream shop in Palos Park, Ill., created a flavor called The Golden Coyne — vanilla ice cream with cookie dough and golden Oreos — to honor her Olympic triumph.
“I think getting married trumps everything and anything,” Coyne Schofield said. “It was definitely the best day of my life to marry my best friend and continue our life together. But it has been an incredible year. It’ll be a hard one to top, for sure.”
At the Four Nations Cup in Saskatoon this month, she burnished her reputation for making big plays at big times. She scored a goal and assisted on Brianna Decker’s winner in the 5-2 final victory over Canada, as the United States won the tournament for the fourth consecutive year.
Coyne Schofield also set up Sydney Brodt’s late winner in a 2-1 round-robin victory over Canada and finished the tournament with five points.
“Her leadership on the team is huge,” said Brodt, 20, a national team newcomer. “She’s not always the loudest in the locker room, but she’s always going to do the right thing on and off the ice.”
Olympic teammates hail her electrifying speed. Decker called Coyne Schofield the Connor McDavid of the team, referring to the Edmonton Oilers star and N.H.L. most valuable player who is also known for his speed. her” To the defender Kacey Bellamy, Coyne Schofield is “the fastest woman in the world.”
Coyne Schofield said she had had limited opportunities to work with skating coaches, although she did receive instruction from Kenny McCudden, the former skating and skills coach of the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves, who now works for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“When I was younger, I played with the boys a lot, and it forced me to be a good skater, because I don’t have much size,” said Coyne Schofield, who won the 2016 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award as the top N.C.A.A. women’s hockey player. “You had to keep up with them or get off the ice, especially when you have a ponytail coming out of your helmet.”
Instead of working with a skating coach, she builds her speed in the weight room.
“I want to be the strongest player I can be,” she said. “I’m 125 pounds, but I want that to be 125 pounds of muscle. So it’s just constantly focusing on my strength. Obviously a lot of lower-body strength, a lot of single-leg strength. I’ve had amazing strength coaches throughout my career, and they’ve helped me maximize my speed, and have helped me get faster on the ice.”
Coyne Schofield takes inspiration from Cammi Granato, the national women’s team’s career leading scorer, who also grew up in the Chicago area. Coyne Schofield met Granato at a hockey camp at age 7.
She said the Olympic victory celebrations in South Korea hit home: “I got a text from Cammi offering her congratulations. I can get teary-eyed talking about it. I was 7 years old and I held her gold medal.”
Granato, who captained the winning Olympic team in 1998, was also known for her lobbying for equitable treatment for women’s hockey players. Coyne Schofield and her teammates took up that fight in 2017, announcing they were prepared to boycott the world championship. USA Hockey, which had previously paid its female players only $1,000 a month for six months in an Olympic season, agreed to pay each player $14,000 to $21,000 each year, among other concessions.
“She’s a fiery little one in the best way,” said Hilary Knight, whom Coyne Schofield set up for the overtime gold-medal-winning goal against Canada at that world championship. “She wants what’s best for this program, what’s best for the next generation. I think that really shone through in our internal meetings.”
Coyne Schofield wants USA Hockey to schedule more national team games, and wants women’s hockey to have greater visibility nationwide, noting that the 2018 Olympic gold medal game was named Best Game at the ESPY Awards.
“We have two major tournaments this season: the Four Nations Cup and the world championship in Finland,” she said. “Yet there’s not one opportunity for anybody in the United States to watch us live on national television. Not one. That’s a whole year that we just worked our butts off, trained hard for, and no one has the opportunity to see us play.”
Currently, Coyne Schofield plays for the Minnesota Whitecaps, the latest team to join the National Women’s Hockey League. She has one goal and four assists for the 6-0 Whitecaps.
To be with her husband, she commutes between Orange County, Calif., where she trains with the under-18 Anaheim Junior Ducks boys, and Chicago, where she works part-time in fan development for the Blackhawks. She joins the Whitecaps for weekend games, boarding with Hannah Brandt, her Olympic teammate.
“I get, ‘Well, how come you didn’t move to Minnesota?’ ” Coyne Schofield said. “I said: ‘You’re paying me $7,000. I’m not moving to Minnesota.’ If this league was more sustainable, I would consider it. But I’m not moving away from my family for that amount of money. Whereas if I was making $100,000, ‘See you, honey, in a few months!’ You know? He would obviously have the utmost support and respect for that decision.”
Coyne Schofield said she hoped player salaries would eventually approach $100,000 if the five-team N.W.H.L. and the six-team Canadian Women’s Hockey League merged.
Her time playing in the Chicago Pro Hockey League with N.H.L. players over the summer showed her how much work needs to be done in her sport and whom she is doing it for.
“It was an awesome experience to see all these young girls in the stands,” Coyne Schofield said. “And I may be biased, but I don’t think they were there to see the boys!”