COMMUNITY: Coyne Serving as Role Model, Inspiration for Next Generation
A lifelong fan of the Blackhawks, Kendall Coyne now works alongside the organization to inspire the next generation of girls' hockey
Kendall Coyne's connection to the Chicago Blackhawks began earnestly when she proudly wore No. 7 on her jersey as a nod to Hall of Fame defenseman Chris Chelios.
"Obviously, growing up in Palos Heights, I have been a Blackhawks fan my entire life," said Coyne, 27, who won a gold medal in the 2018 Winter Olympics. "When I was a kid, the Blackhawks games were not on TV, so my parents would bring my brother and me to watch the Blackhawks play. The stadium didn't look like it does today. We would sit in the 300 section and we would actually play shinny hockey, then watch the game, then get back to our shinny hockey game.
"When I started playing (organized team hockey), I was No. 7 for Chris Chelios for most of my career. And my parents ... I am so fortunate that they took the time and effort to drive me down to the United Center and allow us to watch those games. Because otherwise I wasn't watching hockey. I was only playing it. I wanted to be Chris Chelios for a big chunk of my career until I met Cammi (Granato)."
Granato was the captain of the U.S. women's hockey team that won a gold medal in 1998. She was one of the first women to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010.
"The moment I met Cammi and saw someone who looked like me and saw someone who played the sport I played ... it was a moment that changed my life forever," Coyne said. "I remember that feeling, so that is why I take that feeling with me everywhere I go. If I can be that sort of role model for someone else, then I think I have left this game better than when I entered it. There is no greater accomplishment than that. There is no gold medal greater than inspiring the next generation to follow their dreams, whether it is in hockey or something else. I can be that positive role model to them. It is something I am very passionate about."
The diminutive Coyne treasures her childhood hockey memories followed by her meteoric rise to world-wide acclaim. And she has the unique and humble perspective to be able to connect the dots between her love of the game and the role the Blackhawks have played in helping add to her inspiring legacy.
"It has been incredible to see the transition the Blackhawks organization has gone through in my time as a Blackhawks fan in the last 27 years. I remember distinctly the change coming right around 2007 and 2008 when I entered high school. Growing up, people would say: 'What sport do you play? I didn't know girls played hockey,'" she recalled.
"Part of that was because of the lack of visibility. Then when the Blackhawks were on TV and they drafted Patrick Kane and drafted Jonathan Toews and the team did a complete (turnaround), then people would say: 'What? You play that sport? That's so cool.'"
Her personal journey would only get better as the Blackhawks' championship ascent unfolded.
"Then 2010 was my senior year of high school and the Blackhawks won (the Stanley Cup)," Coyne said. "Everyone was so excited about hockey. I would go to school and be able to have conversations about the sport and tell them about my passion and what my dreams are. I (said) that I would love to play in the NHL, but my goal is to play in the Olympic Games. And that's the pinnacle of the sport for me. For (NHL players) it's the Stanley Cup. So I remember that vividly from high school."
GOALS AND ASSISTS
Coyne's mission has been accompanied and enhanced by major assists from Blackhawks staff members.
"It was only a few years later that I had met Annie Camins through youth hockey," Coyne said of the Blackhawks' Senior Director of Fan Development. "I remember that was around 2013, before I was an Olympian. She activated me within the Blackhawks community and wanted to share that girls and women play hockey, too, alongside the Blackhawks. I think that really speaks volumes about the organization because I wasn't really a household name back then.
"I was a role model in the community in the Blackhawks' eyes before I knew I was a role model. And they really created that platform for me to go out into the community alongside their superstars like Jonathan, like Patrick ... and show the community that: 'Hey, girls play hockey, as well.' And if you can see it, you can be it.' That's what Billie Jean King always says."
Right from the start, Coyne realized what impact she could have on young girls wanting to participate in the male-dominated sport of hockey.
"I remember I went to a school with Jonathan and a young girl came up to me and said: 'Do you play for the Blackhawks?' I said: 'No, I wish. This is my National Team jersey. I play for Team USA.' And just that conversation alone inspired her to ask another question. She said, 'Wait, girls play for the National Team and do the boys play for the Blackhawks?'
"Just having that conversation and being able to explain that girls play hockey was due to the visibility that the Blackhawks created by me standing alongside Jonathan Toews at a school visit. I give a lot of credit to Annie Camins because she has been pushing for me to be at so many events. They created the 'Golden Coynes' program this year."
The Golden Coynes program is a popular girls-only hockey camp initiative.
"This (connection with the Blackhawks organization) all started before I was an Olympian. Right after the 2014 Olympics, I interned in the community relations department, so I was able to work game nights with the Blackhawks for the remainder of the 2014 season," Coyne said. "That was the co-op that I did alongside the Northeastern (University) curriculum. I was really able to see what goes on behind the scenes of a professional sports organization. I was so narrow-minded in that stage of my life. I just wanted to play hockey. Then I realized I need to be more than a hockey player. And I was able to see how much goes into making an event like one hockey game happen. And it really made me respect being a player. Because there is so much work that goes on behind the scenes and I never realized as a player."
Coyne credits the Blackhawks organization as being a pioneer in the NHL when it comes to promoting young girls playing hockey.
"I think other organizations call the Blackhawks and say: 'How did you do this? What did you do?' And they are trying to embody what (the Blackhawks) believe in," she said. "I have been able to see it and live it, specifically from the women's and girls' side of the game. They have been leaders and pioneers in that category, as well. I have been fortunate to see some of my teammates get hired by NHL organizations in their home town. I really believe the Blackhawks had a small part in that because of how they have been activating me for so long.
"For us in women's hockey, we don't have the greatest platform. We are fighting to create it every single day. And the Blackhawks have that platform. So the times that they continue to activate me alongside their organization that is so established and so successful and in the city that I am so proud to be from ... it's a tremendous honor. I am so thankful for all of their support and the support they have shown the girls and women's game. They have really put the girls and women's game on the map time after time by sharing my story."