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Kendall Coyne continues to be an inspiration

She will join NBC Sports' broadcast after becoming the first woman to compete at NHL All-Star Skills

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

Becoming the first woman to compete in the NHL All-Star Skills on Jan. 25 in San Jose was a 'no-brainer' for Kendall Coyne Schofield, as was joining NBC Sports' coverage for tonight's matchup between the Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

NBC Sports invited Coyne to be part of their commentary team throughout the night, joining NHL Live pre-game coverage, providing reaction and analysis during intermissions and serving as both an 'Inside-the-Glass' analyst and booth analyst.

"I'm so excited," Coyne said. "This is an amazing opportunity. I always say to kids, when I was 3 years old and put on my first pair of hockey skates, I never thought I would have all of these amazing experiences - I just have been doing what I've been doing because I love the game. Tonight is going to be an example of that. To be an analyst on NBC Sports with Eddie (Olczyk), John (Forslund) and Pierre (McGuire) - pinch me."

Just as her participation in the NHL's All-Star Skills was an inspiration for many, Coyne is hoping that her participation in NBC Sports' broadcast has a similar effect.

"It's going to be an amazing experience, and I hope it's another moment where there might be some young girls out there saying 'Wow, I can do that too?'" Coyne said. "Obviously A.J. Mleczko has been on the broadcast, there have been women.

"But," as Coyne added with a smile, "The more, the merrier."

It's been a whirlwind few days for Coyne, starting when she was asked to fill in for Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon in the Fastest Skater event after he was forced to withdraw after getting injured on Jan. 23. While she was a little nervous, Coyne knew she had a huge opportunity in front of her.

"As soon as I heard the news that I was going to be the first woman to compete in the All-Star Skills competition, just that line alone, I knew it was going to make headlines," Coyne said. "I knew it was going to break barriers. I knew it was going to be a historic moment."

Was it ever. Ever since her skating lessons with Bob Arturo, who is now the director of hockey at RMU Island Sports Center, Coyne has stood out at every level because of her blazing speed - and it was no different on Friday. Coyne skated an electrifying lap and crossed the line at 14.346 seconds, which elicited some priceless reactions from the players. 

"It was crazy," Kris Letang said. "We were all sitting on the bench and as she was hitting the first corner, we were like oh my God (laughs). This is fast. A lot of guys were like, 'There's no way I'm beating that.' Everybody was really impressed."

Letang was talking about that night with Brian Dumoulin, who filmed a segment with Coyne after morning skate since they both went to college in the Boston area. Dumoulin went to Boston College, where he won three national championships, while Coyne went to Northeastern, where she won the Patty Kazmaier Award as the top female player in 2016. There, Coyne played a season with Sidney Crosby's sister Taylor.

"You see her just as fast as NHL All-Stars, speed is one thing you can't teach and it's tough to do," Dumoulin said. "If you've got it, that's a game-changer. For her to have that speed and keep up with NHL All-Stars, she could probably beat me, so that's pretty impressive."

The 26-year-old ended up finishing seventh of eighth in a field that also included Connor McDavid, Cam Atkinson, Mathew Barzal, Jack Eichel, Miro Heiskanen, Clayton Keller and Elias Pettersson, and made a statement by showing that women belong in the sport.

"It's great for women's hockey and hockey in general," Bryan Rust said. "I think to be able to see a woman compete and compete successfully on the same level as All-Stars in the NHL, I'm sure it's eye-opening for some people. It's awesome. It should inspire a lot of little girls everywhere."

That's exactly what has happened in the few days since, as Coyne has been receiving supportive messages from parents saying that their daughters now want to play. One mother told Coyne about how her daughter had previously never showed any interest in hockey, she was content just watching her brother. But after seeing Coyne compete, she wanted hockey skates, so they went out and purchased a pair that night.

"People were inspired and I think ultimately, it changed the view of women's hockey," Coyne said. "We're always told the game is slower than the men's, it's boring to watch. I think my score proved the game isn't that slow. We're as fast as the men. Hopefully that means people will come in and support the game equally."

They will have a chance to do so with the 2019 Rivalry Series, where Team USA will play three games against Team Canada from Feb. 12-17, with all of them being broadcast on NHL Network. 

Joining Coyne on the roster is Amanda Kessel, and not only have they been in the program together since they were young - they have been linemates for about five years and were roommates at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, where they won a gold medal.

"Now that you might have gotten a glimpse of Friday night and what I can do just by skating a lap, come in and watch us play," Coyne said. "We have a huge opportunity with three games against Canada coming up. Those will be on NHL Network, so you can watch us play. 

"We work just as hard as the men. We grind it out day in and day out and don't always get the recognition we deserve. So for the NHL to give us that platform on Friday night was unbelievable. Kudos to them, and also kudos to the people who had that hard conversation saying women should compete, because there always will be naysayers. But you know what, the NHL said she belongs here. I think that's the takeaway I would have, is that we belong in this sport. Women or men, we're all hockey players."

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