Mom and champion: Kendall Coyne enjoys full-circle moment in winning pro women’s hockey title – Metro US

Mom and champion: Kendall Coyne enjoys full-circle moment in winning pro women’s hockey title

Minnesota Boston Hockey
Minnesota captain Kendall Coyne Schofield (26) takes the trophy to her team after defeating Boston to win the PWHL Walter Cup, Wednesday May 29, 2024, in Lowell, Mass. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

Mom and champion.

In 11 short months, Kendall Coyne Schofield delivered a child and a championship to Minnesota while at the same time realizing her vision of establishing a women’s professional hockey league in North America.

And the only moment the 32-year-old, three-time U.S. Olympian looked uncomfortable in the post-game celebration of Minnesota winning the PWHL title on Wednesday was when teammate Kelly Pannek crashed the news conference to praise her captain.

“She won’t say this but this. The only reason this happened from the players’ side is Kendall. Like legit the only reason, and she hates it (the attention),” Pannek said pointing a finger at Coyne Schofield following a Walter Cup-clinching 3-0 win over Boston in a decisive Game 5.

“To do it with a growing family and amongst all these other things, she still shows up and does her job every single day as a hockey player,” Pannek added, as Coyne Schofield squirmed in her seat “But she has like seven other jobs on top of it, the biggest one being creating this league for all of us other player to play in.”

With Coyne Schofield whispering “Thank you, Kelly,” into the microphone, Pannek responded by saying it was time to party.

It’s a celebration five years in the making since Coyne Schofield and members of the U.S. and Canadian national teams put aside their competitive differences to form the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association following the demise of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

And it comes less than a year since the PWHL was established after Los Angeles Dodgers owner Mark Walter bought out the rival Premier Hockey League and committed hundreds of millions of dollars to launch the six-team PWHL.

While Walter deserves credit for the financial backing, Coyne Schofield was influential for sticking to her vision of players having a voice at the negotiating table that led to players ratifying a collective bargaining agreement the same weekend she gave birth to her son.

It came full circle on Wednesday night. Coyne Schofield sealed the win by scoring into an empty net with 2:06 left before becoming the first captain to hoist the Walter Cup and share the moment with 10-month-old Drew in her arms.

“To see Kendall score an empty-netter I think was the highlight for me of the whole year,” women’s players’ association executive director Brian Burke told The Associated Press. “Kendall spearheaded this whole effort. There were a lot of women involved that deserve credit, but none even close to Kendall.”

The moment was not lost on Coyne Schofield’s competitors, including Sarah Nurse, whose PWHL Toronto team lost to Minnesota in a five-game semifinal series and is a players association vice president.

“We would not be here without her,” Nurse wrote in an email to the AP. “It’s a full-circle storybook moment that she was able to raise the Walter Cup. It has been incredible to work alongside the inspiration she is.”

And to think Coyne Schofield once worried whether she had a place in the league after taking the year off from hockey for being pregnant. Her fears were unjustified come September when Minnesota used one of its three exclusive free-agent roster spots to sign her to a three-year contract.

“I’m honored to be the first to hoist it, but it doesn’t happen without so many people,” Coyne Schofield said. “There were a lot of people who didn’t believe us. There were a lot of people that didn’t think we deserved this. … And I hope now everyone believes that we deserve this and it’s only going to keep getting better.”

She then reflected on a video she made with Drew, informing her son of preparing to play her first PWHL game on Jan. 3 in the same UMass-Lowell Tsongas Center where Minnesota clinched the title.

“There’s just so many emotions,” Coyne Schofield said. “Just hoping that people can see what’s possible. You can be a mom and you can be a professional hockey player at the same time.”

The PWHL completed a season in which its playoff seeds weren’t decided until the 72nd and final regular season game, and had two of three playoff series end in decisive Game 5s. The league average for attendance was 5,448 through the regular season, and 1,000 higher during the playoffs.

Challenges remain in Year 2, with the league needing to find a bigger home for Toronto, and a permanent home for in New York, which split time at three venues. Meantime, team nicknames and logos are finally set to be announced in August.

Issues aside, executives and players agreed in saying the season exceeded on- and off-ice expectations.

“We’re probably all in awe of what happened this year,” Montreal defenseman Erin Ambrose told the AP on Thursday. “I thought there were going to be a lot more bumps along the road than there was.”

Disappointed as she was in having Montreal’s season end in a three-game semifinal sweep to Boston, Ambrose was struck in watching Coyne Schofield accept the championship trophy from Walter.

“It was very poetic. I think if you ask any athlete in the league, we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Kendall,” Ambrose said. “I’m very, very happy for all of us this year. But I think it really was the icing on the cake for Kendall last night.”

AP Sports Writer Jimmy Golen contributed to this report.

AP Women’s Hockey: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-hockey