Small skater, big impact
by Lucas Aykroyd|26 JAN 2019
Kendall Coyne Schofield (left, with Hilary Knight) became an Olympic champion when the U.S. won its first gold in 20 years at the 2018 Winter Games in Korea.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Life just seems to keep getting better for Kendall Coyne Schofield. On Saturday, she made history as the first woman ever to compete in the NHL All-Star Game Skills Competition, placing seventh in the Faster Skater event with a time of 14.346 seconds. It's the latest in a long string of accomplishments.

In 2016, the speedy American left wing was named the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winner as the best player in college women’s hockey after scoring 50 goals and 84 points with Northeastern University. In 2017, she won her fifth IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship on home ice in Plymouth, Michigan and claimed the tournament scoring crown with five goals and 12 points. And in 2018, the two-time Olympian captured her first Olympic gold medal when the U.S. topped archrival Canada 3-2 in a nail-biting shootout in PyeongChang, Korea.
While Coyne Schofield currently stars for the NWHL’s Minnesota Whitecaps, her feats go beyond the ice. She’s passionate about building the profile of women’s hockey and women’s sports in general.

So the 5-foot-2, 125-pound (157-cm, 57-kg) dynamo from Palos Heights, Illinois didn’t sit back and relax after the American women made cameos on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and Ellen during their victory tour. She’s also appeared on American Ninja Warrior and thrown out the first pitch (with her hockey stick!) at a Chicago White Sox baseball game. She got inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame and became the first woman to receive the Stan Mikita Lifetime Achievement Award. In July, Coyne Schofield married Michael Schofield, a tackle with the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers, who won the 2016 Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos.

This season, the 26-year-old forward is gearing up to chase global supremacy again at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Espoo, Finland (4-14 April) under new U.S. head coach Bob Corkum. We caught up with her recently.

How has winning an Olympic gold medal changed your life?

It’s changed my life significantly, but I think what’s more special about it is it’s changed others. And I’ve seen the impact all over the United States, whether it’s a young girl saying, “I want to go to the Olympics or play hockey,” or someone simply saying, “I want to follow my dreams because of you.” I think that’s the most rewarding part of winning a gold medal.

What motivates you to keep on going?

I think it’s just the honor to represent your country. At this stage of my career, it’s also to continue to see the impact that I can have on this game and on others by continuing to fight for what’s right and what we deserve. At this stage of our careers, everyone that’s around my age or a little bit older, you’re fighting to leave the game better than it was.

USA Hockey won its fourth straight Four Nations Cup in Saskatoon in November. How did you enjoy playing on a line with the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s Sydney Brodt as she made her senior national team debut?

I loved getting to know her and talk with her. It revives you in a way. It was awesome to see her excitement, her nerves, her questions. Those were all the same emotions and questions and feelings I had over 10 years ago. So it’s pretty cool. All our young players are doing an amazing job.

With Brodt, what was it like for you and Brianna Decker to try a different winger after years on that line with Hilary Knight?

I think that’s the cool part about being part of a national team. You can put any line combination together and everyone’s pretty skilled, pretty talented. You have the utmost trust and respect for the coaching staff. These are all pros. Our coaches are pros and they know what they're doing. We just do what we’re told.

Although you play for the Minnesota Whitecaps, you’re splitting your time between Orange County, California and Chicago in order to see your husband and your family. How has your rigorous travel schedule changed since your husband moved on from Denver?

It's pretty similar. Maybe an extra hour or two here and there, coming from Orange County. But it’s pretty similar. I can't complain. I’m grateful that the Whitecaps allow me to come in and out. My teammates are really receptive about me not being at practice every day with them. They understand why. I’d say 90-something per cent of my team is from Minnesota. So they have their families there, whereas my family is in California.

How would you sum up the Canada-U.S. rivalry in one word?

Fun. [laughs] I’m that kind of person, though. There are so many words to describe it. But it’s a blast. It’s a game you look forward to, a game you want to play in. Our coach said: “A win without a great opponent makes a win not mean much.” I’m like, “That’s a great way to put it.” Every game in international competition and every national team in it, you always say is a great minute. It’s awesome to be able to play such amazing competition.

Who’s an NHL player you admire?

I love to watch Patrick Kane, day in and day out, just what he does, his effort. I see him in the summer on the ice, just one-on-one, working his butt off. I think he’s an ultimate pro. The way he approaches his game is just amazing. He makes it look effortless.

Can you describe the influence that Cammi Granato, who captained the 1998 Olympic gold-medal team, has had on you?

Well, I had over 100 girls in my hockey camp last summer, and it was incredible. Just to see all the girls there, they’re so excited. Just to be able to give them an opportunity to see the other girls play hockey. That was something that Cammi taught me.

I went to her hockey camp when I was seven – actually, Hilary was at the same camp. We didn’t realize it at the time, obviously. We were young. I’d just turned seven. I was six during the 1998 Olympics and saw Cammi when I turned seven. That was the first time I saw other girls that played hockey. I didn’t know that was a thing. Up to that point, my knowledge was the Stanley Cup.

So remembering that feeling of empowerment Cammi gave me, I was like, ever since then, when I got older and in college, as soon as I graduated, I said: “I don’t care how much work, how much it’s going to cost, whatever it’s going to take. I'm starting my own girls’ camp. And I just want to give girls the opportunity to come together, and I want to be accessible to them as much as I can.” Cammi changed my life in that way, and I know how important it is.

Stars like Alex Carpenter and Noora Raty are reportedly earning the highest salaries in women’s hockey as sports ambassadors with the CWHL’s KRS Vanke Rays in Shenzen. They’re there to spur the growth of the sport in China prior to the 2022 Beijing Olympics. Would you ever consider China?

Oh, no, no. I’m a homebody. I need to be by my family, want to be back at home. So not on my personal radar. It’s a little too far for me. I don’t know enough about it. I’ve never looked deeply into it. It’s awesome that those players are making that kind of money. They deserve it. We all deserve it. So how can we get those salaries to come back to North America? Because that’s the next big step.

It’s awesome what they’re doing over there because they’re growing the game in a way that I haven’t personally seen firsthand. But I know they’re doing it and they’re making the game better. Come 2022, it’ll be pretty cool to see the product that's on the ice.

What’s it like to have a husband who is a fellow pro athlete?

In the off-season we train together every day. Then in season, he’s off on Tuesdays, so if I'm going to train on Tuesdays, he’ll come with me, just so I have a buddy, even though it’s his off-day. He's like, “Yeah, I’ll come to you.”

I’m a fair-weather football fan. I’m a fan of wherever he plays. And we’re both White Sox fans. We both grew up on the south side of Chicago, 10 minutes from each other.
Kendall Coyne Schofield is hoisted up in the air by her husband Michael Schofield, American football player of the NFL’s Los Angles Chargers, following the Olympic gold medal win.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
What are the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome in your career?

Getting the respect I deserve. I think I bring a pretty consistent game. It’s a hard game to play day in and day out. I think sometimes it gets taken for granted.

And the other thing is my size. I think I’ve quieted a lot of people who say you can’t be 5-foot-2 and 125 pounds and be on the national team for the duration that I’ve been. It’s not easy. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of making it not a factor. I hope I’ve showed others that they can do it at this size and smaller. That’s something I’m proud of as well.

Do you plan to return for your third Olympics in 2022?

If I can get there, it would be pretty cool. After winning, it acts as more motivation to want to get back there, whereas in 2014, I really didn’t know what it felt like to win. So you’re just kind of fighting that drive. Now that I know what it’s like, being a little bit older, I can be in a little bit of a leadership role and help guide this team.