SAN JOSE, Calif. — The biggest roar from the crowd at the NHL skills contest Friday was for a player who isn’t in the league.
When two-time Olympian Kendall Coyne Schofield lined up to take on the All-Stars in the fastest skater race, fans filled SAP Center with chants of U-S-A. Fueled by the surge of energy in the building, she circled the rink in 14.346 seconds as the first woman to compete in the league’s annual showcase.
“The crowd was electrifying,” she said. “Everyone erupted when I started. It definitely gave me some momentum, and adrenaline was pumping.”
Coyne Schofield, who grew up in Oak Lawn, clocked a 14.26 in a practice run the day before and was “bummed” she couldn’t match it Friday.
She was the first skater to take the ice and officially finished seventh out of eight, beating Coyotes center Clayton Keller. She should probably also get credit for outdoing Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen, who followed her and wiped out on a curve before getting a chance to retry.
Edmonton’s Connor McDavid came in at 13.378 to win the event for the third consecutive year.
Coyne Schofield is a longtime Blackhawks fan and friend of Patrick Kane, who spurred her on and congratulated her on a performance that was not only competitive, but a landmark for women’s hockey.
“She worked really hard and she put up a great score, so she should be proud of herself,” Kane said. “She was really the only one that competed in an event, too. She should be proud of herself. It seems like she kinda broke a barrier tonight.
“She threw up that 14.3 right away. There was probably a lot of [players] thinking that she was gonna beat more than one guy. But there were some great scores tonight. That was a pretty cool event to watch, and she did a great job.”
Coyne Schofield was a late addition to the field after Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon withdrew because of an injury, a move the NHL announced Friday afternoon. She originally was one of a few women’s players invited to demonstrate events for the crowd before the men competed, but she became the star of the show.
She was already one of the most popular players in women’s hockey after helping the U.S. win gold at the 2018 games in Pyeongchang, but competing against some of the NHL’s best talent could make her a transcendent star.
Of course, she wasn’t thinking about that as she sped around the ice.
“You’re thinking move your legs as fast as you can,” she said.
But before and after the event, she grasped the magnitude of the moment.
“I would say especially to young girls and to women, follow your dreams,” Coyne Schofield said. “Believe in yourselves and there’s nothing you can’t accomplish. Tonight was an example of that.”