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By BOB YORK
Kendall Coyne Schofield, a former standout at Berkshire School, became the first woman ever to take part in the National Hockey League’s Skills Competition prior to this year’s NHL All-Star Game. The former New England Prep School Athletic Council Player of the Year (2011) and two-time U.S. Olympic Team member (2014 and 2018) made the quantum leap by a foot – Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon’s bruised foot.
With MacKinnon sidelined after being hit by a shot during a game against the Minnesota Wild just prior to the All-Star festivities, his team sent out a tweet that said: “Nate’s here in San Jose, but has someone else in mind to compete for Fastest Skater. Kendall Coyne, what do you think?”
When informed of the sudden turn of events and her opportunity to become the first woman to take part in the NHL’s skills competition, Coyne Schofield tweeted, “It would be my honor, I’ll get to the rink as fast as I can,” … and once she got to the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., she went even faster.
“Obviously, I was a little nervous,” Coyne Schofield told reporters following the event, “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.”
The member of the Minnesota Whitecaps of the Women’s National Hockey League didn’t show that nervousness, however, as she took one lap around the rink in a time of 14.346. The clocking placed her seventh out of eight competitors, but was still quick enough to put her within one second of Connor McDavid’s winning time of 13.378, who would later tweet: “When she took off, I was like ‘Wow,” I thought she won the event the way she was moving.”
The way she moved around the rink may have left McDavid in somewhat of a sense of astonishment, but it certainly didn’t come as any shock to Sylvia Gappa, Coyne Schofield’s former coach at Berkshire School.
“I wasn’t surprised that Kendall was invited to take part in the competition, nor was I surprised at how well she did,” said Gappa, who coached Coyne Schofield during a postgraduate season (2010-11) at Berkshire. “She’s the fastest woman I’ve ever seen on ice and even when she was here, fans use to turn out in droves to watch her play … she’s just an incredible athlete.
“Believe me, the NHL knew exactly what it was doing when it issued her that invitation,” added Gappa “As the first woman to ever take part in the skills competition, they knew she’d hold her own. Being the only woman to compete in the Chicago Pro Hockey League last summer, they knew first hand that she was able to stand up to the guys … and she did,” pointed out the former mentor of the 5-2, 125-pound forward.
Coyne Schofield, who hails from Palos Heights, Ill., and who is married to Los Angeles Chargers offensive lineman Michael Schofield, turned her season in the Berkshires into a winter wonderland for Gappa, her teammates, and the multitude of fans who showed up to watch her. For her beleaguered opponents, however, not so much. In just 25 games, she chalked up 55 goals and 22 assists for 77 points and led the Bears to the quarterfinals of the NEPSAC tourney that season, where they lost to Lawrence Academy.
“Kendall could have had a lot more (goals) that season,” said Gappa, “but she was a very unselfish player and got as much enjoyment setting up one of her teammates for a goal as she did scoring one herself. She always had a knack of knowing when to shoot and when to pass ... she helped everyone around her elevate their game.
“As good as Kendall was, she was also one of the hardest working athletes I’ve ever been associated with,” added Gappa. “There are a lot of kids who are outstanding athletes but that’s as far as they take it, they never push themselves to improve … Kendall did.
“When Kendall came to Berkshire, she was already classified as an elite skater,” continued Gappa, “so we did our best to get her the ice time she needed to maintain that status and help her prepare for the top-tier tournaments she was to compete in.”
So, in addition to practices and games Coyne Schofield chalked up with the Berkshire girls’ team, no one on campus was ever surprised to see her practicing with either the boys’ varsity or junior varsity teams. “She would practice with whatever team she could line her schedule up with,” said Gappa.
That extra skating time ended up proving invaluable for Coyne Schofield, as she and her US teammates journeyed to the IIHF World Championships in Zurich, Switzerland, during the holiday break that winter, where she produced four goals and a pair of assists to help her squad earn a gold medal.
For as long as Coyne Schofield has been considered a “can’t miss” candidate, she nearly missed out on attending Berkshire School entirely. Plan A for her collegiate hockey destination was Harvard University. That trek was forced to take a detour, however, when Harvard informed her she needed to get her test scores up in order to make the grade. A year of prep school suddenly became Plan B and Berkshire became the answer. Then she made her way onto the collegiate level – at Northeastern University.
Prior to attending Berkshire, Coyne Schofield earned her elite status in the sport while spending three seasons skating for the Chicago Mission U-19 team, which is a Tier 1, AAA level of the Youth National Program, which can be translated as the best-of-the-best. During her three years in the Mission program, she registered 254 points in 157 games. In her final season there, (2009-10) she collected 87 of those points on 53 goals and 34 assists.
Coyne Schofield’s scoring touch has never abandoned her whether she’s been on the collegiate or the world stage. By the time she graduated from Northeastern in 2016, she did so with a degree in one hand and the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award – which is emblematic of the premier Division I player in women’s hockey – in the other.
In short, Coyne Schofield won the Kazmaier Award, because she won just about every other women’s hockey award there was to win that winter and earned a spot on just about every conceivable All-Star team as well … from All-America … to All-Hockey East … to All-USCHO … to All-New England Player of the Year.
She earned such distinction by leading the NCAA stat sheets her senior season in goals (50), goals per game (1.35), points per game (2.27), shorthanded goals (5) and hat tricks (5). She finished as Northeastern’s all-time leading goal scorer (141) and point producer (249). As for Hockey East records, she established single-season records for goals with 30 and points in league play with 55 during her senior season. She also bowed out as Hockey East’s all-time leading scorer with 91 goals and 167 points in 79 games.
As for international play, Coyne Schofield might need to rent a wing at Fort Knox to show off her wares. In total, she has won 17 medals: 12 gold, four silver and one bronze. She has collected one gold and one silver following Olympic competition, while World Championship play has resulted in five gold and one silver medal. Four Nations play, meanwhile, has contributed six gold, two silver and one bronze to the mix.
As the stat sheets show, these medallions are well earned as far as Coyne Schofield is concerned. During her two Olympics, she has registered nine points on four goals and five assists, while a half-dozen World Championship tourneys have yielded her 18 goals and 24 assists for 42 points. During nine Four Nations gatherings, she has rung up 35 points off 16 goals and 19 assists for 35 points.
When you combine her blazing speed, with what Gappa described as her “nose for the net,” it’s easy to see how Coyne Schofield created such a media storm following her appearance at the skills competition.
Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs wrote: “She was flying. I was giving (Clayton) Keller a hard time because she beat him. She came out for warm-ups, was buzzing around, and everyone was taking notice.”
The Calgary Flames’ Johnny Gaudreau said: “It’s pretty impressive, obviously. It’s great. It’s really cool. And she’s American, so it’s even better.”
Perhaps the tweet sent out by the LA Kings proved to be the most interesting, however. It said: “Hey Kendall, we’re looking to add some speed … interested?”
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