As Kendall Coyne Schofield pops into the frame of our video call, she greets me with a charming courtesy.
“Apologies, you’re going to hear some baby background noises,” says the three-time U.S. Olympic hockey medalist, cradling her two-month-old son Drew.
The 31-year-old Chicago native just returned home from Toronto, where she attended the first player draft for the Professional Women’s Hockey League, the long-awaited new six-team league set to debut in January – one she’s been helping build with a player-driven leadership group since 2019.
The PWHL’s yet-to-be-named Minnesota franchise made Coyne Schofield one of its three free-agent signings, which clubs were permitted before the draft. Known as one of the speediest women in hockey, she blazed that famous lap in the fastest-skater challenge at the 2019 NHL All-Star Game, as the first female contestant in that event. Widely respected throughout the sport, she has also been a colour commentator on San Jose Sharks broadcasts, and a player-development coach for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Coyne Schofield is back on the ice preparing for Minnesota’s training camp. She’s home from a workout as we talk, one to which her husband, NFL offensive lineman Michael Schofield, brought the baby for a surprise visit.
She calls it “the best kind of busy there has ever been in my life.” We get into The Globe’s questionnaire, joined by a little chorus of baby noises.
When and where were you happiest?
When I met my son for the first time.
What is your chief characteristic?
Who is a person you admire?
Which talent would you most like to have?
Having super strength.
What is your greatest fear?
What is your most treasured possession?
Does my son count? Maybe my gold medal.
If not pro hockey, what job might you have pursued?
Probably a college athletic director.
What’ is your greatest extravagance?
Getting to attend any and every sports event that I can, with the best seats possible.
What is a trait you dislike in others?
A lack of work ethic
What’s something you’d change about yourself?
To stop always being so busy.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I think that is still yet to come.
What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?
Finding a partner in life like my husband.
What’s the hardest thing in hockey?
Staying in hockey shape – very relevant to me right now.
Any favourite authors or books?
My favourite book is Legacy, about the All Blacks rugby team. [Legacy: What The All Blacks Can Teach Us About The Business Of Life by James Kerr]. It’s about commitment and work ethic. No one’s too big to do the little things, and they talk about sweeping the sheds. It resonated with me, going back to character traits of loyalty and hard work. You’ve got to be committed to whatever it is in life that you love to do. I think that’s how you get the most out of yourself. I feel that when I read that book.
What frustrates you?
Seeing inequities, not only in sport, but in society. Growing up in hockey, I’ve seen it, I’ve lived it and I know how hard it is to change it. Like we saw two years ago, when at the men’s NCAA basketball championships they had a full weight room, yet the women had a few dumbbells. How can women still be such an afterthought? Someone really thought that was okay? How? It shouldn’t take [then Oregon, now TCU basketball player] Sedona Prince putting it on the Internet for it to change. That stuff frustrates me.
What’s your greatest regret?
Not being fully present in moments that I should be fully present in, because I’m distracted, or doing women’s hockey stuff and I’m on e-mail or my phone. Someone said to me, ‘hey, remember when we were on that boat ride in Chicago? You were on the phone the whole time.’ I look back and I wish I would have been present. I’m rarely ever on a boat and I missed a unique moment. It’s moments like that, when I look back, I wish I had been more present.
What’s an invitation you’d love to receive?
To go on vacation and not have to do anything but enjoy the vacation.
When’s the last time you did that?
I can’t even tell you when. I went on my honeymoon two years late. Vacations, I don’t take very often.
Name three people that you hope attend a game in the PWHL’s debut season?
Wow, let me think. I hope to see Michelle Obama, Allyson Felix and Serena Williams.
What do you want people to know about the PWHL? What are the little-known parts of the story about how players built this?
This is only the beginning of something that’s going to be special. All those women’s hockey leagues that came before this one were stepping stones to getting us here. The kind of resources and backing that we have this time, the women’s game has never had before. I know some still have that perception ‘oh, just give it a few years and it’ll go under like the other leagues.’ Well, this is different. Mark and Kimbra Walter, Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss, Royce Cohen, Stan Kasten – all they know is first class, and being highly professional, and that’s what they’re committed to.
The PWHL draft was celebratory and historical and monumental for many, but also difficult for the players who didn’t hear their names called, or the players who can’t commit to being a full-time professional hockey player because now they’re also 10 years in as a teacher and they have a pension or a 401K and aren’t willing to give that up, but they’d been both up until this point. Right now, this is the turning point – now you are either a hockey player as your profession or you’re a teacher, a nurse, a doctor, a lawyer. For so long, these women have worn many hats at one time. I keep getting asked ‘are you moving to Minnesota?’ Yes, of course I am, this is professional hockey. If my husband, who plays professional football, got drafted today by the Minnesota Vikings, no one would ask him that question, and he just had a baby too. That is the level of professionalism in women’s hockey now. But all those women who are saying ‘I gotta hang em up now and choose my other career,’ those women helped get us here as well.
And so did Ballard Spahr, the pro bono law firm from Pennsylvania who has helped us this whole time, since Day 1 when we picked up the phone – back then it was from a USA Hockey [labour agreement] standpoint in 2016, but that fight was the start of this one as well. They’ve been catalysts in this entire thing, and we’ve never received a bill from the firm, and they deserve a lot of credit. They’ve answered our calls and e-mails, even when the lawyers were on vacation. Their guidance is remarkable.
Did they introduce you to Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss?
No, that introduction came when I just called them up in March of 2019. Ilana and Billie were both on the phone. I said ‘this is where we’re at, this is where we want to be, how do we get there?’
And they were keen to help women’s hockey players right away?
I don’t know if they knew what they were getting themselves into. I don’t think any of us did. We didn’t know it would take almost five years. There’s no handbook for this. It was just the grind, the commitment, persistence, resilience and exhaustion. Now we’re here, and Billie and Ilana have been in the front seat since Day 1. I don’t know how they do it, but they do it for so many people. Did you see what Coco Gauff said when she got her $3-million cheque for winning the U.S. Open? She said ‘thank you Billie for fighting for this’? Some day we’ll have a woman holding a million-dollar cheque and saying the same thing, ‘thank you, Billie and Ilana, this is because of you.’