On Friday January 25th, we saw a woman officially compete in an NHL All-Star Skills event. Besides being the first appearance of its kind, it also raised quite a few eyebrows across the board. USA Women’s National team member and 2-time medalist Kendall Coyne Schofield replaced Nate McKinnon (Colorado) in the fastest skater event, and her performance did not disappoint. She completed the lap in 14.346 seconds, ahead of NHL’s Clayton Keller’s 14.562 (Arizona), and only 1 second behind repeat winner Connor McDavid’s time of 13.378 (Edmonton). While some criticize (I have seen comments of “who cares, the guys weren’t even trying,” etc.), this is monumental by ways of shining a light on women’s hockey and the talent pool involved.
Also to be noted is another member of Team USA, 2-time medalist Brianna Decker and her demonstration of the Premier Passer event. Decker’s time of about 1:06 was caught by Abby Sorkin, an attendee at the competition. Since the event was not televised, and not an official entry, it was not timed by the NHL. Based on the now-viral video, Decker’s time to complete the exceptionally difficult course looked to be 3 seconds faster than the winning NHLer Leon Draisaitl (Edmonton) 1:09. Since Decker was not officially competing, the NHL could not recognize this “win,” however hockey company CCM definitely took notice and said they would be compensating Decker to the tune of $25,000- the same amount as the prize for first place in the official event. Since the conclusion of the Competition, the NHL went back and reviewed Decker’s time, and they clock it as “around 1:12-13.” Either way, the woman did not lose, she was near the top of the pack.
It is a bittersweet thing, to showcase this talent and skill at the NHL event, but these women are neither mascots nor cheerleaders, and should not be regarded as such. They are not a fluke, nor are skilled female hockey players a “new thing.” They are elite athletes. They are professionals. Many people have no idea that there are indeed professional hockey leagues for women- the CWHL (established 2007) and a NWHL (established 2015). These women have fought for their own leagues, fought for fair pay, and continue to fight for respect. The women in the NWHL are all college graduates, and strive to embody the Declaration of Principles set forth by the NHL. The teams in the NWHL compete for the Isobel Cup, named after Lord Frederick Arthur Stanley’s daughter (yes, THAT Lord Stanley) and one of the first female hockey players of North America. The NWL also has alliances with NHL teams such as the New Jersey Devils and the Buffalo Sabres. This branch of the sport is growing. Women’s hockey isn’t just for the Olympics anymore.
In the words of the great Herb Brooks, “great moments are born from great opportunity,” and the performance at this year’s skills competition was just that. Under tremendous pressure (imagine, being the ambassador for your sport, with the nation watching- if you don’t perform, you set yourself and your brethren back) Coyne Schofield and Decker NAILED IT. Since that Friday there appears to be a surge in interest in women’s hockey. There have been Tweets and Facebook memes and an explosion on social media. What they showed us that Friday, is that women aren’t any less skilled, talented, or dedicated than men. Had Coyne been a few inches taller for a longer stride, she probably would have given McDavid more of a run for the money. She may have finished one second behind, but she and Decker catapulted women’s hockey up into the forefront. I couldn’t be more proud to be a female hockey player.