Kendall Coyne Schofield never will forget the moment she first saw her childhood inspiration in person.
"I was a 6-year-old little girl that saw Cammi Granato from Downers Grove, and I saw her at Seven Bridges Ice Arena. I turned to my parents and said: 'I want to be in the Olympics and I want to do what she does,'" Coyne Schofield recalled.
Now at age 27 and with an Olympic gold medal of her own, Coyne Schofield hopes she can provide similar inspiration through the newly-created "Golden Coynes" program for young girls.
The all-girls developmental hockey program, led by an all-female coaching staff, focuses on skating, stick handling shooting, positional concepts and small area games. It attempts to create a fun and exciting environment for girls ages six to 12 who want to continue to grow their game.
"This is a dream come true for me. These are opportunities that weren't here when I was a young girl," Coyne Schofield said before a recent session at the Fifth Third Bank Arena, the Blackhawks practice facility. "And to see these opportunities continue to develop and grow...thank you to the organization of the Chicago Blackhawks. It's incredible. And a lot of these girls were part of the all-girls 'Little Blackhawks" program. I even remember, almost five years ago, I think the Blackhawks were one of the first organizations to host an all-girls summer camp. And I have seen that trend grow throughout the NHL. I might be biased, but I think the Chicago Blackhawks are leaders in growing the game and specifically the girls and women's game. It has been awesome to see and awesome to be a part of."
Coyne Schofield's pioneering spirit began during her school days in south suburban Chicago when she broke stereotypes about by playing in such a physical sport as ice hockey.
"It gives me chills. I just think about how I was the only girl, and the only girl in school (playing hockey) and the only girl on an all-boys team," she said. "And how challenging that was. Being called a tomboy and being picked on and being told: 'Go play sports that girls are supposed to play.' And I think the city of Chicago is the best role model for girls belonging in a sport. There's no place like home for me and the numbers keep growing all over the United States. For me to be able to come back home and impact the area that has had such an impact on me is truly special. I can't wait to see the next girl come out of Chicago and represent the United States in the Olympic games."
Listed, perhaps generously, at 5 feet, 2 inches, Coyne Schofield has shown that size does not matter in hockey. Her husband, Michael Schofield, is a 6-7, 271-pound offensive lineman for the Los Angeles Chargers.
"I do get that question a lot. They do ask me how tall I am," she said. "Then I inform them that I am not growing any more. I think that's the confusing part. But I guarantee you I will get out there this evening and there will be players that are taller than me. I am showing them that I am just a normal person and you can do what I did. It takes a lot of hard work, but there is no special recipe. That is why it is important to get out in the community and be accessible and answer these girls' questions and be there for them to lean on."
Coyne Schofield, who won the Patty Kazmaier Award as the top female college ice hockey player in the country as a senior at Northeastern University, was able to showcase her speed and agility on the ice during the skills competition at this year's NHL All-Star festivities. She became the first woman to compete in the NHL skills events.
"That was a moment that broke a lot of barriers. That was the first time some people had seen a ponytail come out of a hockey player," she said. "I don't think that moment was successful without the platform that I skated on. I think anyone could have been in my skates. Anyone could have skated at that time...faster or slower. But it was the platform of the National Hockey League that really blew that moment up. And I think we're living that example today as well. The Chicago Blackhawks decided to partner with me to create this 'Golden Coynes' opportunity. Through all of their hard work and efforts, we have to create another session. And there are over 50 girls. So to see the NHL continue to support and grow the women's game and the girls' game like they do... and like the Blackhawks have been doing for years and years.. is so important. But the sport is trending up and there are more girls playing more than ever. It is the fastest growing sport in the United States and we are going to keep it that way."