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Kendall Coyne Schofield on her new role with the Chicago Blackhawks

Kendall Coyne Schofield scored two goals on Thursday. (Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Kendall Coyne Schofield is a two-time Olympic medalist and the current captain of the US women’s national ice hockey team. Coyne Schofield also plays for the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, and she was recently hired by the Chicago Blackhawks of the NHL to serve as a player development coach. She spoke with JWS about her new job and what comes next for both Team USA and the PWHPA.  

You were recently hired by the Blackhawks as player development coach. You’re the first woman in Blackhawks history to be named to the role. Can you talk a little bit about the job and what your responsibilities will be? 

For sure. So my role as a player development coach will be focusing on the developmental aspects of each role, which is extremely exciting. I love to build and grow the game, and as the player development coach standpoint, I’ll be working alongside our prospects. I will be watching the games that they’re currently playing in, breaking down the film with them and for them. I will be trying to teach them things that eventually we hope to see them doing as a future Blackhawk. A lot of the principles and characteristics that we see in our Blackhawks every single day, we are trying to teach our prospects those and help develop those characteristics so that when they get here, they are NHL ready and they can make that jump.

In addition to that, I’ll be on the ice in Rockford when the players return and the league returns as much as I can be. So working with those players as well, I’m really excited to get on the ice. That’s where I strive the most.

I’m really excited to develop the relationship with the players and the trust with the players that what I’m coaching them to do is going to help them accomplish their dream of making it to the NHL. Because ultimately, I know what that feels like. I know what it feels like to fail. I know what it feels like to succeed. And I know what it feels like to win at the pinnacle of the sport. And so I hope I can take the experiences that I’ve had throughout the team and implement it with them through our relationship as a player development coach.

How will you balance this with your role as the captain of the US team?

That’s a great question. And I’ve answered this question a bit, but speaking with you, I think you’ll understand this when I say that if there’s one group of people that know how to manage and multitask, it’s women’s hockey players. From the time we graduate college, we are multitasking. We are doing many things because we can’t make a living from this game.

So our mindset from the time we go through the recruiting process to the time we walk across that stage is, what’s next? I need to be doing something other than playing because I can’t make a living playing. And so my mindset has always been on things other than playing. I’ve done broadcasting, I’ve done many other things. This relationship with the Blackhawks has evolved over the last six, seven years. I interned with them between my sophomore and my junior year of college. And it was because I had that mindset, unfortunately, that I can’t make a living playing the game. And so while I’m extremely excited and honored that I can wear many hats and that the Blackhawks are accepting of me continuing and pursuing my career as a player, while being a player development coach and a youth hockey pro specialist, I hope this game gets to a point where a young girl growing up knows she doesn’t have to wear many hats in order to make a living being in this game.

But again, I’ve been very fortunate that I’m able to do multiple things at once and have the blessing of the organization to do that because it is a lot. One of my focuses is with the women’s national team. That’s my focus. And my focus can’t only be on the Blackhawks and the prospects. And they are 100% on board with that. So to have their support means a lot to me.

I love how honest that answer is. Not everyone realizes just how much professional female athletes have to struggle with balancing their athletic careers with another job to make ends meet. And the only way to change that is if athletes talk about the struggles and fight for change.

And I hope this position also opens the eyes to so many young boys and girls to see what’s possible. To see that there’s so many other areas within the game of hockey that you can be involved in, that you can make a career out of. And I think hopefully I’ve proven that along the way that you can do many things within this game as I’ve done a lot besides playing. So I think that’s also an equally exciting part about this role.

You are paving the way. And the Blackhawks now have three women working in their hockey operations department. Can you put into perspective what that means for the sport at this point in history?

It’s extremely important. We need to continue to have women in the positions of making decisions when it comes to players, when it comes to helping a team win a championship, when it comes to the business aspect of the organization. We need to make sure the table is as diverse as possible. And there are different viewpoints coming from across all aspects of the game. And then to be a part of an organization that has three women in that position just speaks volumes to the inclusivity of the Blackhawks and the vision that they have for the organization.

And I think we want to have more, we want to be able to make sure there’s not only three. And I think I’m sure you saw Meghan Hunter was promoted as an amateur scout, which was another huge win for women in hockey. But I think it’s just as important for boys and girls to grow up and see women in the position of power alongside men, to know that both men and women are making important decisions as it pertains to sports. And so I think that’s what is also exciting about this role. I think we have a ways to go. The Blackhawks are leading the way as you can see, but there are 31 clubs. And so there’s a lot more room for growth. I’m the first here, the first player development coach, and I think what’s so exciting about it is knowing that someone’s going to be next. There’ll be someone who will come after me. And I hope through the efforts that I put forth, it’ll make the decision of hiring them that much easier.

Like you mentioned, you’re still playing hockey with the US team and the PWHPA.  Do you think being an active player will help you in your new role with the Blackhawks?

Yes, I really do. I think that’s the one unique aspect that I bring to the table is that I am still playing. And I’m sure this might be the first time that a lot of these players have a woman as a coach. I’m sure it’s the first time a lot of them have a coach that’s still actively playing at the highest level. Those are two distinct things that separate me from the other player development coaches they may have.

But I think what I’m excited for, and I know there’s going to be some smack talking I’m sure, is when I’m coaching a player up on something, and he’s watching me play with the women’s national team, and I’m doing the same thing I’m telling him not to do. It’s going to happen. And I’ve already thought about it, and I know I’m going to laugh about it. And I’m looking forward to that because that just shows the trust in the relationship that is being built between the players and myself. All of the best coaches that I’ve had throughout my career are the ones that care about me as a person. And so I want to make sure I have that relationship with the players that I will be working with. And because I’m still playing,I think I have a certain level of empathy for the players and what they’re going through because I’m still going through it myself.

For sure. In my experience playing sports in college, I always loved when our coaches would jump in and run drills with us.

Totally. And it means I have no excuse for a bad pass at practice.

You have mentioned before that being an NHL general manager would be a dream for you. How do you think this job fits into that trajectory?

I think it fits in very well. I think I’m able to see the organization from the business side of things. And I haven’t seen it from that side. I think I have the ability to learn and grow from some of the best in the business within the Chicago Blackhawks organization. And I plan on being a sponge. I plan on learning a ton along the way. I know I’m going to make mistakes, and that’s part of the process. But in order to get to the top, there’s a process to get there. And this is only the beginning for me.

You are originally from Illinois. How special is it to be part of your home team’s organization? 

This is the team I grew up wanting to be on ever since I was three years old. And I’ve made it. I’m on it. I’m here. I grew up 22 miles southwest of the United Center. My family and I would go to Blackhawks games when I was a kid. I played in the junior Blackhawks games when I was playing house league here in Illinois. And it was the highlight of my youth career being able to play at United Center. This was the first hockey team I ever wanted to be on. And I’m on it. And to be able to make decisions to work every single day to help an organization that was the one that I wanted to be on, that I idolized as a kid, is really special. And I think in order to be elite or the best in anything you do, you have to be passionate about it. And there’s no doubt that I’m extremely passionate about this organization.

What’s your schedule look like over the next year in terms of Team USA, PWHPA, and Blackhawks commitments?

With some of those things, your guess is as good as mine due to the pandemic. But we were able to get together with the women’s national team in October, which was awesome. We went in with 53 players healthy. We came out with 53 players healthy. That was the first sign of it being a successful camp. And then second was that everyone was in shape. It was incredible. I think it just shows how committed this team is.

We’re supposed to have a rivalry series in February. If that takes place, I’m not sure, it’s usually against Canada. It just depends on the border being open, the numbers, everything. And then I think the big thing to keep an eye out for is the women’s world championship in April in Halifax. They were supposed to be in Russia, but Halifax got canceled last year, so they just bumped it to Halifax for this year. So that would be in terms of the women’s national team.

PWHPA, we’re hoping to get off the ground and running in January 2021. Again, a lot of it’s TBD. We hope to have events, one, in the United States and events in Canada.

And then from a Blackhawks standpoint, I am currently off the ground and running right as we speak. It’s been an overwhelming couple weeks just getting my feet wet and learning the software and everyone who I’m reporting to and meeting the prospects. And so it feels overwhelming at first, but it’s exciting because I have so much to learn, and learning is the best part of it all.