The Chicago Blackhawks published a film on star women’s hockey player Kendall Coyne that is as tear-jerking as it is inspirational. Coyne grew up in the suburbs of southwest Chicago.
“I did a lot of my growing up in Palos Heights,” former NHL forward Eddie Olczyk, who scored 342 goals during his 1,042 game career, said. “Without question, Kendall Coyne is the greatest player to come out of Palos Heights, Illinois, and I’m proud to say that.”
During last year’s event, Kendall became the first woman to compete in the NHL All-Star Skills Competition and beat one of the seven NHL skaters with a time of 14.346.
“She had one opportunity. You can either blow it or make it. And she made it,” Billie Jean King, a trailblazing woman’s tennis player herself, said.
“I think we’re still figuring it out what it meant. We’re learning new things every day. New developments, new barriers being broken because of that moment,” Kendall said. “Having a moment like that, it’s teaching the future generations of our game that gender doesn’t matter.”
The movie starts in Kendall’s childhood home where her parents, Ahlise and John Coyne, recall how she first got into hockey.
Kendall’s brother Kevin, 6, played hockey while Kendall, 3, enrolled in figure skating.
“I want the sport,” Ahlise remembered her daughter saying. “I want to do what Kevin is doing.”
The parents enrolled Kendall in hockey and she excelled. “As a little girl she was always where the puck would be,” Ahlise said. “I just waited for the boys to come,” Kendall added.
The 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, was particularly motivating to Kendall who watched the women win gold as a five-year-old. Gold medal-winning hockey player Cammi Granato hosted a hockey camp shortly after and interest was huge.
“We got on a world stage, we won a gold medal, and we came home to this massive interest and rush of people wanting to learn more about us,” Granato said. “Having 100 girls showing up to our hockey camp was unheard of. Just unheard of. It’s amazing to see these young girls now are a product of that team winning. It’s very cool we’re a part of that.”
Kendall attended that camp and won a gold medal herself 20 years later at PyeongChang.
“If I didn’t meet her at that time, I have no idea what dreams or desires or goals I would have had in life,” Coyne said. “Meeting her prompted me to chase something that would change my life forever.”
The meeting motivated Coyne to the upper echelon of hockey despite constant verbal abuse while playing hockey.
“There was a time in my youth career that I thought about quitting hockey because I was getting made fun of,” Kendall said. “Getting told to do what normal girls do and you don’t belong. And getting cut from teams because I was a girl.”
“I would hear from the parents, ‘Hit her. Take her out. She’s horrible, she’s a girl,'” Ahlise said. “Literally constant. It’s been really amazing to just watch her to that little girl to where she is now.”
Kendall also told stories about how she has split away from the rest of her co-ed teams because of her gender.
“There’s a lot of loneliness when you’re the only girl,” Kendall said. You watch all the guys go in the locker room, have a great time, socialize and you go in the storage closet by yourself. I’m constantly opening the door, to see, ‘Okay, is the Zamboni out, or are the guys out there yet?'”
NHL player Ryan Hartman was Kendall’s childhood teammate.
“I think having her (on our teams) really opened everyone’s eyes,” Hartman said. “She pushed the pace. Sometimes kids don’t really want to be out there and she’d come out and embarrass people sometimes. It made everyone try to work harder and I think she’s brought that with her everywhere she goes.
“You notice the work ethic right away,” Hartman said. “We’d always see her in the gym, doing extra stuff. It was almost like she was a rink manager and she pretty much worked at the rink. I wouldn’t be surprised if she had a key.”
After winning IIHF gold medals in 2011, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and Olympic gold, Coyne, along with several other US Olympians, were invited to demonstrate drills at the All-Star Skills Competition last season.
“I remember wanting to do the fastest skater for fun. Then all of a sudden, Nathan MacKinnon gets hurt. He can’t skate,” Kendall said. “I got a call from Patrick Burke saying, ‘You’re going to be the first woman to compete in the NHL All-Star Skills Competition.’ And I almost fell over.”
Kendall ended up beating Clayton Keller and was two tenths off Cam Atkinson, two of the fastest players in the NHL. Kendall finished one second behind Connor McDavid, who is one of the fastest skaters of all-time.
Kendall Coyne (U.S. Women’s National Team) – 14.346 seconds
Miro Heiskanen (Dallas Stars) – 13.914 seconds
Clayton Keller (Arizona Coyotes) – 14.526 seconds
Elias Pettersson (Vancouver Canucks) – 13.930 seconds
Cam Atkinson (Columbus Blue Jackets) – 14.152 seconds
Jack Eichel (Buffalo Sabres) – 13.582 seconds
Mathew Barzal (New York Islanders) – 13.780 seconds
Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers) – 13.378 seconds
“That moment, it wasn’t how it was skated, who skated it, it was the platform it was skated on. And that was the platform within the National Hockey League,” Kendall said. “They created that platform and we took advantage of it.”
She broke a barrier that I don’t think anyone could foresee,” Granato added. “It’s epic, like what she did was epic. Like you just can’t script it any better. It was more than just a race. It was so much bigger than that for women’s hockey. We talk about the Olympics and a gold medal and what a gold medal can do. But that moment was also a gold medal. That moment was historic.”
This year, the best women in the world will have their own three-on-three tournament during the All-Star Skills Competition.
And all of the women will be paid.
Just spoke with a representative from the NHL.
The 20 women going to All-Star are being paid. They were paid last year. And will certainly be paid this year.
The amount has not been made public for the men OR women.
— Hailey Salvian (@hailey_salvian) January 23, 2020
“What was so special to me, to hear from so many people, thousands and thousands of young people, boys, and girls, who picked up the sport because they saw that moment,” Kendall said.
Headline photo: Chicago Blackhawks
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