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Reflective Kendall Coyne hoping to inspire next generation

Kendall Coyne (L) and Hilary Knight hold their gold medals and the US flag after the medal ceremony after the women's ice hockey event during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Gangneung Hockey Centre in Gangneung on February 22, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-JeJUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images

When a young Kendall Coyne saw Cammi Granato’s medal after the United States women’s hockey team won gold at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, it had a profound impact on her. After what the team did in South Korea, it’s likely Coyne and her teammates have made similar impressions on the next generation of female hockey players.

“For me, I think about it when I first put on my first USA Hockey jersey when I was 15 — that was 10 years ago — and just where it started and where it’s gone is what I reflect upon,” Coyne told the Sun-Times while she and her teammates were in South Korea. “When I look back at just how much sacrifice and hard work and dedication it takes to get to this level, it just puts a smile on my face to know it was all worth it. The decisions I made day in, day out were worth it.

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“I think the biggest part, there’s an individual side to winning a gold medal, but I think the more important side is what you’re going to do with it afterwards. Just being able to inspire the next generation of young girls to hopefully pick up some hockey skates and try the game is pretty cool.”

Coyne, 25, was a key part of the U.S. lineup that claimed a dramatic 3-2 shootout victory over arch-rival Canada that delivered the team’s first gold medal in 20 years. The Palos Heights native, who also earned a silver with Team USA four years ago in Sochi, Russia, said Granato texted her after the game. Coyne said it “was probably at the top of my list for coolest text messages from somebody.”

Coyne embraces her position as an influencer for future players, but she said it doesn’t have to be only about hockey.

“It’s a platform that has been earned through a lot of hard work. It’s not something I take for granted,” Coyne said. “Especially when I go home and you see a young girl and they want to come up to you and say hi or ask a few questions. It’s just taking the time out of your day to really listen to them and hopefully inspire them to follow their dreams, whether it’s in sports, music or for anything in life.

“It’s a big platform. There’s a little bit of pressure, but it’s a lot of fun.”

Follow me on Twitter @BrianSandalow