Coyne Schofield shines in fastest skater at All-Star Skills
Becomes first woman to participate in event, posts time of 14.346by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer
SAN JOSE -- The chant broke out across SAP Center. It wasn't for the San Jose Sharks or for Auston Matthews, once he'd shed his own Toronto Maple Leafs jersey to reveal a Patrick Marleau version. It wasn't for any of the NHL all-stars.
It was for Kendall Coyne Schofield.
"USA! USA! USA!"
[RELATED: Complete 2019 SAP NHL All-Star Skills results | All-Star Game coverage]
The 2018 PyeongChang Olympic gold medalist stepped to the line for the Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater competition, the first event at the 2019 SAP NHL All-Star Skills. She looked once over her left shoulder. She heard the whistle.
"I had chills," said Canada's Women's National Team defenseman Renata Fast, who was at the All-Star Game to demonstrate the Honda NHL Accuracy Shooting.
"Honestly, I had chills watching Kendall skate."
Video: Fastest Skater: Coyne Schofield sets the pace
Coyne Schofield, blond ponytail flying, crossed the line in 14.346. She wouldn't win. The title would go to Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid for the third consecutive year, at 13.378, but she finished less than a second slower than the fastest player in the NHL. She beat Clayton Keller of the Arizona Coyotes, at 14.526, and she could have done better. She had, already.
"It shows the top players -- men or women -- belong," Coyne Schofield said.
The idea was hatched on Thursday by NHL staff. Coyne Schofield and three other women's players -- U.S. Women's National Team forward Brianna Decker, and Canada's Women's National Team players Fast and forward Rebecca Johnston -- came to the arena to demonstrate some of the events.
Coyne Schofield stepped to the line for the fastest skater and produced time of 14.226, faster than three of the NHL players who had taken part in the 2018 NHL All-Star Game (Zach Werenski, 14.250; Noah Hanifin, 14.317, and Josh Bailey, 14.413).
They knew she should compete. So why shouldn't she?
Video: Coyne on getting Fastest Skater competition call-up
Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon was not available to participate in the event because of a bruised left foot, leaving a spot open.
Coyne Schofield got the nod.
On Friday, the Avalanche, who were supportive of the idea, tweeted at her "Nate's here in San Jose for #NHLAllStar, but has someone else in mind to compete for Fastest Skater… @KendallCoyne, what do you think!?"
"It would be my honor! I'll get to the rink as fast as I can! #NHLAllStar #HockeyIsForEveryone"
She called the invitation to become the first woman to participate in the All-Star Skills "surreal."
"My first impression was like, I can do this," Coyne Schofield said. "My speed is definitely my strength. Obviously, I was a little nervous, 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 and show support to our game."
It was clear that it did. By the stick taps and amazed expressions. By the conversations she had with the NHL players. By the results on the scoreboard. By the tweet from the Los Angeles Kings.
"I was really impressed," Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau said. "She was flying out there. And she's American, which is even better."
If it hadn't been clear before, it was clear on Friday that women could compete at All-Star Skills. Not only did Coyne Schofield post a time competitive with the NHL all-stars, Decker put up an unofficial time of 1:06 in the Enterprise NHL Premier Passer, which would have beaten Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl, who won the event with time of 1:09.088.
"She did?" Draisaitl said, when told. "Wow. That is impressive. That's really impressive. Good for her."
It could open the door for future participation by women's hockey players at the All-Star Skills, with the understanding that their times and skills are commensurate with the NHL players, whether it be Coyne Schofield in fastest skater or Decker in premier passer or Hilary Knight in accuracy shooting.
"I think the skills competition is an opportunity for the women to be right in on the events," Fast said. "I think if you were to review all of the demos the girls did, they weren't that far off from the males. I think they were right there with them. I think in the coming years it would be awesome to have a couple representatives actually competing.
"It would be a great opportunity for young girls, and boys, to see both males and females competing in a skills competition with the best in the world."
Video: Kendall Coyne and Brianna Decker visit the ASG set
Because for a sport where exposure means everything, Friday meant something. It meant a lot.
It was why Coyne Schofield was so nervous, knowing that her performance would be a statement, even in an exhibition event, even in a competition that didn't really have consequences for the NHL players taking part. For her, it had consequences. For women, it had consequences.
"I think today the NHL took that stance," Coyne Schofield said of the ability for women to participate in All-Star Skills. "They made that statement. I was fortunate to be a part of a lot of people pushing for it, a lot of hard conversations that have been had. I'm thankful for the opportunity.
"I think it went pretty well."