NHL

In praise of Kendall Coyne Schofield

NBC hockey commentator Pierre McGuire’s interactions with Kendall Coyne Schofield in the last week were embarrassing, awkward and regrettable.

The waist grab at the NHL All-Star skills competition, after she became the first woman to compete in one. The “nobody wants to lose to you” comment after her impressive lap. A few days later, his comments introducing her as paid guest analyst — hey, paying a female hockey player for her work at an NHL event, what a concept! — on NBCSN, made before she covered a Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning game:

He followed that with a truly strange line, following Coyne’s joke about wearing a face mask when getting into brawls with Team Canada: “I’ll be your cage tonight.”

Huh?

The “between the benches” moment blew up globally, to the point where both Coyne and McGuire released statements on Thursday. Just in case you were concerned he couldn’t come off any worse, he said “I should have chosen my words better” but never actually apologized to Coyne for putting her in this spot.

If you don’t understand why this matters, or want to simply write it off because of McGuire’s brand of awkwardness or because Coyne said they’re friends or because it was some kind of pathetic attempt at a joke about her being a broadcasting novice, just open your ears. Or expand your Twitter feed.

Listen to former women’s pro players like Ashley Johnston saying it’s “a great example of how far the NHL, broadcast, and sporting world has to go in respecting female athletes and reporters.” Or the women in media who reached out to me privately when this was all going down on Thursday, with one saying: “It WAS that bad. I used to cover a lot of tennis back in the day and can’t ever imagine ANY of the major broadcasters treating a woman like that.”

Understand that this was a professional hockey player for the Minnesota Whitecaps of the NWHL moonlighting on cable television, just like Patrick Sharp would once the Chicago Blackhawks were eliminated from the postseason. The only difference being that no one was bellowing in his face about “being paid not to be a fan, OK?” while he was analyzing the game. (Well, OK: Clearly not the only difference…)

Try to understand why so many people felt outrage on her behalf.

And then understand that her lack of it, in reacting to this mess, just makes her all the more inspiring.

What Kendall Coyne Schofield did this week was nothing short of extraordinary, and not just because she skated faster than Clayton Keller at the All-Star Game. This might come as a shock to you from the league that didn’t want John Scott at this silly event a few years ago, but a source told me that there were “old school” men in the league office that didn’t want Coyne participating in the fastest skater at all. That she didn’t belong there.

They lost the fight, as they did with Scott, and the same thing happened: an event that usually exists so far off the sports radar than you’d need an orbital telescope to locate it ended up being in the pop culture zeitgeist.

“Obviously I was a little nervous,” Coyne said afterward. “But I knew it was a moment that was going to break a lot of barriers and a moment that would change the perception of our game.”

To NBC’s credit, they invited her on the air as a guest analyst, both capitalizing on her celebrity but also to add a different voice to their homogenous mix.

Then everything happened. This moment was, frankly, stolen from her because of McGuire’s oafish comportment.

So what does she do?

Hint: She didn’t act like a fan.

She acted like a pro.

Consider her statement. She attempts to rescue McGuire’s reputation. She attempts to continue a burgeoning post-playing career as a broadcaster. (Coyne went to Northeastern and has a Bachelor’s in communications.) But she doesn’t diminish the outrage on her behalf from women who saw, in that exchange, what they’ve experienced in and around hockey: The reductive language, the “man ‘splaining,” the unwavering notion that they’re not seen as an equal.

“I understand why people would think it was inappropriate. If I were watching it at home and saw a man say this to a woman athlete, I would have been offended,” she said.

In an interview with Katie Strang of The Athletic, Coyne expanded on that:

“I was able to dissect what happened and see it from the viewpoint that the viewers saw it from. I saw how they interpreted it, how they were feeling and they are right,” Coyne said. “If that was a former NHL player in my situation, was that what would have been said? Maybe not, but being friends with Pierre and knowing him, I knew how excited he was in that moment.

“However, it doesn’t take away from the fact that that language needs to be changed in the future, the way women are perceived in the industry. And I think for all the young girls out there, it shows you need to have confidence in yourself, no matter what the moment is, and I think the takeaway I have from it — whether it’s a moment that someone wants to define for you, you need to define it for yourself. You’ve worked hard for that moment and that’s how I felt.”

If there’s any lesson to be mined from the smoldering pile of hot takes that have accompanied Coyne’s NHL adventure, it’s that: Define your moments for yourself.

Like when Coyne and the U.S. women’s national team were tired of being defined as second-tier by USA Hockey and fought to be redefined as equals. They threatened to boycott the 2017 IIHF world championships in Michigan until they won their fight for “fair wages and equitable support” from their nation’s governing hockey body — and then they won gold over Canada in that tournament.

“It was just a culture where women are an afterthought,” Coyne told me in 2017. “We felt the pressure. We knew we had to win. But we had to show USA Hockey that we deserved what we fought for.”

Like in the 2018 Winter Olympics, when Coyne and the USWNT stopped being defined as runner-up to Canada, and redefined themselves as gold medalists. It was something Coyne had chased since she was seven years old, when U.S. hockey legend Cammi Granato showed her the gold medal she had captured in Nagano. “If I can give that feeling [of empowerment] to some other kid, that’s so special,” Coyne told Snap Shot.

How did Coyne define herself in the last week? As blazing fast. As a professional women’s athlete who showed that her peers should have a place at the men’s All-Star weekend. As a paid analyst on an NHL broadcast. As a woman in sports that showed remarkable restraint when faced with inequity and indignity, both in the moment and in the aftermath. As an epitome of grace and class whose focus remained on inspiring the next generation to rush through the barriers she’s broken.

“What IS important is for every young girl reading this to know it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of my hockey knowledge because I do not doubt my hockey knowledge. I didn’t need a gold medal to come to that conclusion. I needed belief in myself,” she wrote.

Let the lingering memory of the last week be one of Kendall Coyne Schofield as an inspiration, moving us all forward. Let it not be the guy vowing to be “her cage.”


Listen To ESPN on Ice

Speaking of the NHL All-Star Weekend sensation, Emily Kaplan and I welcomed Kendall Coyne Schofield on the podcast to talk about her experiences, as well as Aaron Portzline of The Athletic to chat about the futures of Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin. We also get into some CBA topics with Donald Fehr and present a Connor McDavid-inspired “Phil Kessel Loves Hot Dogs.” Stream it here and grab it on iTunes (rate and review!) here.


The Week in Gritty

We mentioned this in our “Best and Worst of the NHL All-Star Game” post, but Gritty’s “Fiji Water Girl” parody into a monster hug for Claude Giroux was a skills competition in and of itself.

His video bombing of Mathew Barzal was also choice:

Finally, we’re all for the reissuing of all classic literature Gritty-fied:

Up next: “A Tale of Two Gritties” and “The Grits of Wrath”…


The War of February 2021

As mentioned in our Q&A with NHLPA chief Donald Fehr, the earliest possible date for the next World Cup of Hockey is February 2021. That is, if you believe a World Cup could be jammed into that time frame.

The sources I’ve spoken to on the NHL and the NHLPA sides differ on this.

The players believe there’s ample time for a World Cup to be held. Their argument is that if the owners can shutter the league for 16 days during an Olympic break — as they did for the 2014 Sochi Games — then they certainly can do the same for a tournament that could have lasted 15 days at most in Sept. 2016. The players wouldn’t need a slate of preliminary games because they would have played four months of the NHL schedule. That’s also the reason they believe the quality of play might be better than the sub-All-Star level we saw in many 2016 World Cup games. (Team North America excluded.)

Basically, their thinking is: If you were willing to stop the season for a tournament where no one in the NHL makes money, wouldn’t you do the same for a tournament in which everyone gets paid?

(The thinking from the rank and file is also: ‘Hey, we really love getting two weeks for vacations midseason while the elite players are at this international whatever…’)

That’s also the owners’ feeling: They’re amenable to postpone the All-Star Game and take a midseason break for an international event. The thing is, they don’t want to do it for two weeks. They want something smaller scale, like a Ryder Cup. North America vs. The World? Everyone vs. Canada? Old vs. Young? There are many possibilities.

The bottom line is that something on an international scale is going to happen in Feb. 2021 for the NHL. It’s just the size of that scale that’s the issue.


Jersey Fouls

As I’ve said before, there are many, many Jersey Fouls at Devils games. Including this one, from a guy named Bob Wyshynski:

Yes, that’s right. My father is a Foul. His buddies at work got him this. And it’s not even his last name, which would have looked just dandy on a sweater! The shame … it’s palpable.


Puck headlines

Really interesting work here from Travis Yost on the need for the NHL to extend the 3-on-3 overtime. “Ultimately it is up to the NHL and the NHLPA to decide where they want to draw the line in the sand on overtime, but I think that extending 3-on-3 overtime by about four minutes would mean the vast majority of games (close to 90 percent) get resolved prior to the shootout.”

This P.K. Subban appearance on comedian Kevin Hart’s “Cold As Balls” show is the loosest, funniest and most charismatic he’s been in years. It’s really, really terrific, and refreshingly … how to put this … not calculated, for a change for P.K.

After Brad Marchand opted not to fight Lars Eller, here’s a look at the etiquette of the hockey brawl (rare as those brawls are).

I’m still trying to figure out if this is the worst fist-bump or high-five in hockey history.

The bottom five worst All-Star jerseys. No. 1 is so gloriously bad.

A frozen road. A pileup of over 70 cars. What else could Canadians do? GAME ON!

Finally, the snap goal off the draw will never be super embarrassing for a goalie:

Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn’t read)

Where do the Chicago Blackhawks go from here? “General manager Stan Bowman needs to wait until the offseason, and then spend big.”

In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN

Midseason report cards for all 31 NHL teams, including one big old stinking ‘F.’

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