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Women's hockey takes center stage at Little Caesars Arena Feb. 17

Team USA and Team Canada playing in three-game Rivalry Series that concludes in Detroit

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

Hockey fans who watched the NHL All-Star skills in San Jose got to see something truly special, something Detroit fans will get to see soon at Little Caesars Arena.

When Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon couldn't compete in the Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater competition, it opened the door for the league to invite Kendall Coyne Schofield of the U.S. Women's National Team to take his spot.

While Edmonton's Connor McDavid defended his title with the fastest lap of 13.378 seconds, it was Coyne Schofield who got all the attention after she delivered a lap at 14.346 seconds, beating Arizona's Clayton Keller's time of 14.526.

Tweet from @KendallCoyne: History was made and barriers were broke. It was such an honor to be the first woman to compete in the @nhl All Star Skills Competition last night. I can���t wait to see what the future holds! #NHLAllStar

Coyne Schofield actually received more messages after that than she did after Team USA beat Team Canada in a shootout for Olympic gold in PyeongChang last February.

"Yeah, that is accurate," Coyne Schofield said in San Jose the day after the competition. "It's been an incredible few days here. It's been awesome to get to know some of the Canadian players off the ice because I never played with any of them in college either. That's been an awesome experience.

"But obviously being the first woman to compete in the NHL Skills competition is a tremendous honor. There was a lot of hard work and conversations that were had to make that possible. So it goes without saying, kudos to the people who fought for that. I thought (that) night, we broke some barriers and I think the sky's the limit for what's next in our game."

Rebecca Johnston of the Canadian Women's National Team, who was also in San Jose to help demonstrate of the skill and to promote women's hockey, was duly impressed with Coyne Schofield.

"I was in awe," Johnston said. "I was like, 'this is an incredible moment for women's hockey.' I knew she would kill it. It was really exciting to watch. Just for women's hockey, being able to have her compete is a huge step and hopefully we continue to be involved in this and be able to maybe compete next year."

Tweet from @InfernoCWHL: Johnny Hockey vs Johnny Hockey @NHLFlames #NHLAllStar

In addition, Coyne Schofield's U.S. teammate, Brianna Decker, demonstrated what the NHL players would do in the Enterprise Premier Passer competition, which Edmonton's Leon Draisaitl won with a time of 1:09.088.

Although Decker's demonstration wasn't officially timed, TV audiences recorded a time of 1:06, better than Draisaitl's.

Tweet from @ArrowsandDemons: BRIANNA DECKER IS A GODDESS Here���s her absolutely KILLING it!!! #NHLAllStar

"That's what we heard, too," Coyne Schofield said. "Honestly, when we were sitting there watching, we kept saying to each other, 'I think she was faster than them.' Because we didn't obviously have the time in the moment. It was similar to Hilary's (Knight) situation last year when she did the accuracy shooting, she would have placed. Obviously she got first place unofficially so like I said, the sky's the limit and I think that's proof right there, man or woman, we're elite and we belong in this game."

Since all individual winners received a $25,000 prize, a Twitter campaign was created, #PayDecker, and CCM Hockey stepped up to say they would indeed give Decker $25,000 for her would-be winning time.

Tweet from @Bdecker14: Sincerely thankful @CCMHockey You have been nothing but 1st class the last 5 years I have been a part of your family! Thank you for supporting the men���s and women���s game equally! #NHLAllStar #MadeofHockey #Hockeyisforeveryone

Coyne Schofield, Decker, Johnston and Johnston's Canadian Women's National Team teammate, Renata Fast, who was also in San Jose, will all be in Detroit at Little Caesars Arena on Feb. 17 as Team USA and Team Canada play in the finale of a three-game Rivalry Series.

"Part of it was from our boycott back in 2017, something we focused on was more programming," Coyne Schofield said. "Because in a national team year, we only play 10 games, five at World Championships, five at Four Nations. So that was something we discussed. We wanted to play more games. So here we are the year after the Olympic year and these three games have been implemented for February. It's a huge stride. Obviously we get to compete against our rivals."

It's a way to help keep women's hockey at the forefront of people's minds in a non-Olympic year.

Tweet from @usahockey: The #USWNT is hoping to see you at @LCArena_Detroit on February 17th for the #RivalrySeries!Get your tickets 🎟 ��� @NHL

"Usually when people talk about women's hockey, they think of the Olympics," Johnston said. "That's where we get most exposure, so the three years leading up the Olympics, everyone's like, where do they play, what do they do? So for us to get this exposure beyond TSN and the NHL Network in the States, I think it's huge strides for us. People want to watch us play but it's hard because we're not televised that much. For us to be able to be playing against each other, first off, they're always amazing games. It's a huge stride and will be really good for women's hockey and the exposure."

The series will start Tuesday, Feb. 12 in London, Ontario and continue Thursday, Feb. 14 in Toronto.

Tweet from @HockeyCanada: Watch these women compete head-to-head at the upcoming #RivalrySeries in London (Feb. 12), Toronto (Feb. 14) and Detroit (Feb. 17)! 🇨🆚🇺 #CANvsUSA

"I think with our rivalry series, it is important to play close to the border so we can have U.S. fans going up to Canada and Canadian fans coming down to the U.S.," Coyne Schofield said. "We want to see our buildings filled. Not only will the games being on TV help, but having those buildings filled and having the support is also important."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Hey #Hockeytown, you can see @HockeyCanada and @usahockey face-off in the #RivalrySeries at @LCArena_Detroit! 🇺 @RJohnst6 @KendallCoyne Tickets:

Johnston said what has been amazing is the reaction that she and her fellow hockey players have gotten from young girls.

"It's crazy actually, there's so many girls, especially where I'm from, my hometown," Johnston said. "But all around Canada, they recognize you, they come up to you. I'm still shocked a bit at some points when they come up and I'm like, 'Oh, you want a picture with me?' But it's great for women, for girls, to grow up and have role models."

Tweet from @RegularJoeYYC: After watching the girls at the @NHL All Star skills comp with my almost five year old daughter she says "Dad I want to do that" & then my eyes watered up - Some people think them being there was pointless but I beg to differ. @RJohnst6 @HC_Women @KendallCoyne @Bdecker14

Both Johnston and Coyne Schofield's role models are connected to the Motor City.

"When I was younger, I looked up to the NHL players, Stevie Yzerman was my favorite player," Johnston said. "Now they have role models and players that they look up to that are female. I think that's so neat. It definitely shows the growth of women's hockey."

Johnston, a native of Sudbury, Ontario, said she became a fan of Yzerman naturally.

"I grew up watching Detroit and my dad was a big fan of Detroit," Johnston said. "He's an amazing leader. He actually talked to us in 2010 before the 2010 Olympics. I was star-struck. He's just an amazing player, great leader and someone that I wanted to be just like."

For Coyne Schofield, an Illinois native, she was a fan of a different player with Detroit ties.

"It's actually kind of funny - Chris Chelios. We like to claim him in Chicago, we always will," Coyne Schofield said. "But he was someone I looked up to. I obviously was a huge Blackhawks fan, still am. But I remember the moment he signed a picture for me in Detroit, he signed it 24 and I was the most devastated 12-year-old ever. I'm like, 'You're No. 7!' I was always No. 7.

"I've had conversations with him since and he's like, 'I figured out when to sign 24, when to sign 7.' He was always someone I looked up to. Then obviously Cammi Granato being from the Chicagoland area, I met her when I was 7. That was the first time I realized that other girls play hockey. I went to her camp and was just in awe because at that point in my career, I was a tomboy, I shouldn't be playing hockey, it's a men's sport and then I walked into her camp and I was like, 'oh, my goodness, this is amazing.' That's when the Olympic dream started."

While it isn't the Olympics, playing in the Rivalry Series is still serious business.

"This rivalry's huge," Johnston said. "It's crazy to actually get to know some of (the) guys on the U.S. team. For me, I've never played with any of them or know you guys. But on the ice, it doesn't matter who they are, if they're wearing that U.S. jersey, you don't like them. We want to beat them and it's the same for them. It's a great rivalry, it's very competitive and people love it."

Tweet from @LCArena_Detroit: Fresh off her historic performance at last weekend's #NHLAllStar Skills Competition, @KendallCoyne is set to take the ice with @HilaryKnight and the rest of @usahockey on February 17 vs. @HockeyCanada. 🇺🏒🇨Tickets are on sale now:

Coyne Schofield said there's no question that they want to beat their rivals but they do have the same goals for women's hockey.

"I think what's so cool about the rivalry, too, is off the ice, we have the utmost respect for each other because we know what we're trying to accomplish in this game and we know what these three games embody in terms of growth," Coyne Schofield said. "Like she said, once you put that jersey on and you're in your gear, there's no limits. You're not friends. But you understand what each other's going through when you get off the ice. I think that's the respect factor that we have for each other."

Coyne Schofield also has respect for the University of Michigan as her husband, Michael, currently with the Los Angeles Chargers, played football there. He will be at Little Caesars Arena to watch his speedy wife play.

"Go Blue," Coyne Schofield said, laughing. "I know the Michigan fight song. It's ingrained in me now. I'm not allowed to wear red. Our Saturdays are Michigan football and our Sundays are Chargers football. He's very excited to be coming to the game and get back to Ann Arbor and like I say, eat his way through Ann Arbor."

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