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Kendall Coyne Schofield hails growth of women’s hockey during Rivalry Series

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For Kendall Coyne Schofield, the 3-2 U.S. overtime loss to Canada on February 3 represented a missed opportunity to clinch the 2019-20 Rivalry Series. But the captain of the U.S. national women’s hockey team also recognized that it was a win for her sport.

A sold-out pro-Canada crowd of 7,006 packed Victoria’s Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre, exploding when forward Victoria Bach notched the overtime winner at 3:22.

Now consider this: Canada’s love affair with the annual IIHF World Junior Championship is well-established. Yet this Rivalry Series clash drew more fans than any game when the British Columbia capital successfully co-hosted the 2019 World Juniors with Vancouver. Attendance there peaked at 6,602 with Sweden’s 5-4 victory over the U.S., featuring soon-to-be NHL stars like Quinn Hughes and Rasmus Sandin.

So Coyne Schofield, a leading member of the PWHPA board, could still focus on the positives.

Not only did the 27-year-old’s longtime teammate Hilary Knight score bar down on the power play, but defender Savannah Harmon, who got one assist in three Rivalry Series games last year, deftly converted a Dani Cameranesi feed for her first national team goal. And goalie Nicole Hensley, who sparkled as shots favoured Canada 23-22, returned between the U.S. pipes for the first time since blanking the Russians 5-0 at the 2018 Olympics in South Korea.

Canada, looking energized under new head coach Troy Ryan, got regulation-time goals from Brianne Jenner and Brigette Lacquette.

Coyne Schofield, considered the world’s fastest women’s hockey player, is keeping up her torrid pace this year. In January alone, the 2018 Olympic gold medalist and six-time World Champion appeared in the first-ever U.S.-Canada 3-on-3 elite women’s game at the NHL All-Star Weekend in St. Louis and in new Dunkin’ TV ads with David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins.

The U.S. women still hold a 2-1 Rivalry Series lead after prevailing 4-1 in Hartford (December 14) and 2-1 in Moncton (December 17). Game Four of the Rivalry Series goes Wednesday (February 5) at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena. Game Five is Saturday (February 8) at Anaheim’s Honda Center.

We caught up with Coyne Schofield after the Victoria game.

Although you didn’t get the result you wanted, what did you think of the way the team played?

I thought it was a little sloppy at first. But that’s inevitable when you’re not with each other all year long and you get together for a week and you try to be as cohesive as possible. We competed. I think our effort was there, but our execution was not. And if we can clean that up, I think we’ll have a better result.

What was the feeling in the building with that crowd tonight?

Regardless of whether this is our home building or not, it shows that there’s a product of women’s hockey and there’s people that want to see it. When you come to a full building, it proves that women’s hockey is growing and people want to watch it, no matter how many doubters are out there saying that people don’t want to watch women’s hockey and it’s boring to watch. This was evidence tonight that it’s not boring! The crowd was definitely into it, and we’re going to go to more full buildings in the future.

When people see a full house, they see a product, they see talent, and they see skill. There are people who came to the game tonight that may be seeing women’s hockey for the first time, and I guarantee you they’ll come back.

It’s always competitive to make a U.S. roster. What did you think of Savannah Harmon’s performance?

I’ve known Savannah since we were kids. Both Chicago kids. We grew up together. To see how hard she works and the grind she went through in her youth hockey career in Chicago, she never got the credit she deserved there. Having her come out, go to Clarkson, win two national championships, and then be here on the national team is incredible. And to see her score her first national team goal, I couldn’t get off the bench to get the puck fast enough!

She’s been through a lot. It’s evidence to a lot of young kids that if you chase your dream, you can make it. She’s an amazing person and an amazing hockey player. So I’m really excited for her and every opportunity she gets. She’s earned it.

It seems like your team has a different goalie winning the gold medal game almost every year. What did you think about Nicole Hensley stepping back on to this stage?

That’s one of the most challenging things from this loss, not being able to get the win for her, because she did everything she could. But she can’t score the goals!

She’s another player who’s been through a lot, and for her to get her first start since the Olympic Games, she played phenomenal. To see her confidence, she gives us confidence.

Yeah, that goaltending position is deep. Every position’s deep. That’s the national team for you. You’ve got to be one of the best 23 players in the world, and she’s definitely one of them.

Coming off that 3-on-3 in St. Louis, can you compare and contrast the style and intensity in these two different scenarios?

[laughs] I think a few of us that were in St. Louis are like, “Oh, we owe ’em one!” But I think just feeling the energy in St. Louis and the energy here, we were obviously a little bit more engaged in this game, because it was a full 60 minutes and then five minutes of 3-on-3, versus 20 minutes of 3-on-3. That was a killer on the legs! [laughs] But it was definitely high energy, high speed.

We were pretty tired in St. Louis. We had a couple of long days before getting on the ice at 8 o’clock, roughly. But again, there’s a lot of ice and it’s exciting to see the game shift to 3-on-3, because that’s what we watch our male counterparts do night in and night out. And we love it.

To see that transition into the women’s game, we saw it at the U18 level about a month ago when the U.S. captured a gold medal in 3-on-3. So it’s exciting, and I think it’s what the fans want to see. We’re a fast team, so we love it.

Was there more risk-taking allowed at the All-Star Weekend?

I think in both situations, both teams had the responsibility of showcasing the product of women’s hockey. And I think that was a little bit more evident in St. Louis, where we both had the same [NHL] logo on the front of our chests. Here, we’re representing our country, and you want to win. Of course, you want to win there too, but there was a little bit more at stake here. In St. Louis, we really wanted to put women’s hockey on the map and own that moment.

There are a lot of players here that weren’t in St. Louis that could have been in St. Louis. It was awesome to see 3-on-3 with the best players in the world collectively. Because there were only 20 of us there, and here there were 46 of us.

What are you looking forward to most in Vancouver?

Bouncing back. Our team has to respond. The Rivalry Series didn’t go very well for us last year [as Canada won two out of three games]. So we want to be better. It’s still anyone’s game in this series. But it starts from the puck drop in Vancouver. And I think we’re looking forward to the opportunity to see Cammi Granato, with it being her adopted hometown. We’re all excited to see her.

No matter what building we play in, we know we have the opportunity to grow the game and represent our country. Ultimately, we want to come back with a win. That’s what this team is made of: heart, grit, and determination to come out on top.

 

FEATURE PHOTO: Teri Di-Lauro

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