When Kendall Coyne Schofield hit the ice in San Jose last year to kick off the NHL All-Star Skills Competition with a remarkable, 14.346-second lap around the rink, she made history as the first woman to ever compete at the event.
In doing so, she also ensured that she wouldn’t be the last.
This year in St. Louis, Coyne Schofield will hit the ice once again — along with 19 of her Olympic-calibre PWHPA peers — for the Elite Women’s 3-on-3 game on Friday night.
“I think it’ll be very competitive,” said Cassie Campbell-Pascall, who will jump into the broadcast booth to provide colour commentary with Jim Hughson calling the action.
The Team Canada legend also had a hand in crafting the rosters for the game. “I think we’re going to see a great display of skill … It’s going to be fun.”
Fitting, considering the 20-minute game is scheduled smack dab in the middle of the action during the NHL All-Star Skills Competition, which begins at 8 p.m. ET. The women will hit the ice midway through Friday night, with puck drop for the women’s game set for 9:30 p.m. ET. (Tune in on Sportsnet and CBC.)
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“It’s going to be an absolutely great game,” said NHL senior director of player safety Patrick Burke, who runs the skills competition alongside NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer.
“You look at the talent on both teams, you couldn’t ask for better rosters, you couldn’t ask for better advocates for the game of hockey. Hopefully, there’ll be a large number of new fans tuning into the skills competition to watch this, and hopefully, we’ll be able to expose a whole group of NHL fans to women’s hockey and just continue to grow the game.”
Burke credits Coyne Schofield’s success on last year’s stage as a major contributing factor to this year’s event — with executive vice-president of NHL club business affairs Susan Cohig once again leading the collaborative initiative between the NHL and PWHPA.
“It opens the door to things like this year,” said Burke. “Susan Cohig’s organized the 3-on-3 Elite Women’s game this year — that wouldn’t happen if Kendall doesn’t nail it last year.”
Burke believes the shift in conversation around inclusivity and diversity in hockey — and making it a priority, especially over the past five years — had led to more initiatives we’re about to see this weekend.
“I think you’re seeing that with the on-ice example of these women coming in and participating,” said Burke.
“I’m not sure that 10 years ago, there would’ve been automatic permission that Kendall Coyne Schofield gets to skate, or 10 years ago that we would’ve been able to put a 3-on-3 women’s game right in the middle of one of our major events,” he continued. “And that wasn’t done reluctantly — that wasn’t done, ‘Oh, do we think we can do this?’ That was thanks to Susan Cohig and then Gary Bettman supporting Susan in her work, that was a ‘Yeah, let’s do this — this’ll be great!’
“And I’m not sure that 10 years ago, that would’ve been the same response.”
In addition to being an incredibly entertaining game of hockey, the creation of the Elite Women’s game serves as another step in the right direction for women’s hockey at a time when more than 200 of the game’s best athletes are holding out in hopes of the establishment of a long-term, sustainable professional women’s hockey league. As Coyne Schofield proved last year with her fastest lap, the level of talent in the women’s game has never been the issue — it’s just a matter of giving these athletes a bigger stage.
“We need to continue building a platform like we had in that NHL All-Star weekend. I’ve been skating like that my whole life, and it just took an amazing platform to be able to showcase that,” Coyne Schofield told Sporsnet earlier this month, reflecting on last year’s success. “We just have to continue to build that platform so we can showcase our talent and our craft and our skill that we work tirelessly on every single day.”
Rosters & Rulebook
The following rosters were selected by the NHL, with hockey legends Cassie Campbell-Pascall, Cammi Granato, Angela Ruggiero and Hayley Wickenheiser consulting:
Forwards: Alex Carpenter, Kendall Coyne Schofield, Brianna Decker, Amanda Kessel, Hilary Knight, Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, Annie Pankowski
Defence: Kacey Bellamy, Lee Stecklein
Goaltender: Alex Cavallini
Head coach: Cammi Granato
Forwards: Meghan Agosta, Melodie Daoust, Rebecca Johnston, Sarah Nurse, Marie-Philip Poulin, Natalie Spooner, Blayre Turnbull
Defence: Renata Fast, Laura Fortino
Goaltender: Ann-Renee Desbiens
Head coach: Jayna Hefford
How it works:
Two teams of 10 — seven forwards, two defenders and a goaltender — will face off for two 10-minute periods with a running clock. Teams will switch ends between periods.
All penalties will result in a penalty shot awarded to the player fouled.
Elite Women’s 3-on-3: By the numbers
1: This is the first NHL All-Star weekend event dedicated solely to the women’s game.
4: Number of female officials on the ice to officiate the game. Referees Kelly Cooke and Katie Guay and linesmen Kendall Hanley and Kirsten Welsh — all four took part in the NHL Exposure Combine last off-season — will officiate the game.
6: Number of events in the All-Star Skills competition, including the 3-on-3 game. The other events are Fastest Skater, Save Streak, Accuracy Shooting, Hardest Shot, and — this one’s new, too — NHL Shooting Stars.
7: Number of Olympic medals combined won by head coaches Hefford and Granato (five gold, two silver).
20: Number of Olympic hockey players involved in the game — 22, actually, if you count former Olympians, with all-time great Hefford and Granato behind the benches.
21: Number of world championships medals earned by Hefford and Granato over the course of their legendary careers (eight gold, 13 silver).
39: The combined number of Olympic medals won between the 20 women lacing up the skates this weekend.
109: The combined number of world championship medals won among all 20 players.
$100,000: Amount of money the NHL foundation will donate to girls hockey organizations on behalf of the American and Canadian all-stars.