US women's hockey star Kendall Coyne Schofield enjoying new gig as Sharks TV commentator

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Busting through gender barriers is getting to be old hat for Kendall Coyne Schofield.

A member of the U.S. women’s national hockey team, she grew up going toe-to-toe on the ice with the boys in Chicago’s youth leagues. Then, last year, she endeared herself to fans in San Jose and elsewhere when she became the first woman to participate in the “fastest skater” event held during the NHL’s All-Star festivities at the SAP Center.

And this season, Coyne Schofield, 27, achieved another first when she joined the guys in the TV broadcast booth as an analyst for select Sharks games on NBC Sports California (NBCSCA).

The new gig has been a blast for the Olympic gold medalist and six-time world champion. Even better: It’s a chance to have a positive impact on others.

“I’ve talked to a lot of girls who have said, ‘I heard you on the Sharks broadcast. I didn’t know girls do that!’” she said before a recent game in San Jose. “It’s cool to hear that — and hopefully it inspires them to say, ‘I can do that, too, someday.’”

In joining Randy Hahn, Jamie Baker and Bret Hedican on the Sharks telecasts, Coyne Schofield furthers the advancement of women in sports broadcasting and the NHL, in particular. While NBC Sports California and its sibling, NBC Sports Bay Area, have employed women as sideline reporters and studio analysts, this is the first time the regional cable networks have had a woman in the broadcast booth.

Hahn points out that up to 45% of Sharks fans are women and he believes Coyne Schofield is helping to bring “more females into the tent.” But on top of that, he’s impressed by her knowledge and enthusiasm.

“Kendall’s a quick study,” he said. “The transition has been remarkably smooth. And as she gets more reps and we all get more used to each other, it’s going to get better and better.”

For Coyne Schofield, who has three games remaining on her Sharks schedule, preparing for a broadcast isn’t all that different from preparing to play. She scouts San Jose’s opponents while poring over video footage. She studies statistics and works at honing a “laser focus” during the broadcast.

And she strives to play well with others.

“Ultimately, you’re part of a team, so you need to be cohesive with them and know each other’s strengths and style,” she said. “I’m still learning my style, but it’s all about being cohesive and fluid with my partners just as I would be with a linemate on the ice.”

There’s one other similarity between playing and broadcasting: Coyne Schofield gets nervous before each game and isn’t afraid to admit it.

“I was nervous going into the gold medal game at the Olympics,” she said, recalling Team USA’s electrifying win over Canada in PyeongChang. “For me, nerves are a good thing because it shows that you care. But you have to be elite enough to control them. I haven’t gotten to the point yet where I want to be in broadcasting, but I figured it out as a player and I think that with more experience, those nerves will start to fade in a really positive way.”

Her coworkers believe she’s closing in on that goal as blazingly fast as the 5-foot-2 dynamo skates. Baker raves about Coyne Schofield’s professionalism and preparation.

“She’s been absolutely amazing,” he said. “Getting dropped into (the broadcast crew) isn’t easy. She’s willing to put herself in a vulnerable spot. She’s not scared to learn on the fly. ... I’m proud of her. I’m inspired by her.”

So, too, is Janice Baker-Kinney, the longtime set manager for NBCSCA’s Sharks telecasts.

“It’s nice to have her perspective and her experience, and I just love having a woman carry the torch,” she said. “And it’s not like she’s a token hire, or that she has to go out of her way to do better because she’s a female. Anyone who follows the game knows that she knows her stuff. And that’s all that matters.”

While playing hockey at Northeastern University, Coyne Schofield had an inkling that broadcasting might be in her future. To that end, she majored in communications and did some sideline reporting with the men’s team.

“The women would play at 2 or 4 and after we were finished, I’d hurry up and get dressed and then do their game,” she recalled. “I knew the reality was that I wasn’t going to make a living playing hockey. But I loved the game so much and knew that I always wanted to stay in sports. I saw the opportunity to do that through broadcasting.”

Figuring out just how many Sharks games Coyne Schofield could work this season came with some logistical complications. She divides her time between homes in Illinois and Southern California (her husband, Michael Schofield, plays for the LA Chargers). She also continues to have commitments with Team USA, which is scheduled to complete a five-game “Rivalry Series” against Canada on Saturday night in Anaheim.

Coyne Schofield is eager to add to her broadcasting resume in the future, but she has other things on her plate as well. She is among a large group of players trying to get a viable professional league for the world’s best women players off the ground.

“I’m fighting for it and if I don’t benefit from it, that’s not the main purpose,” she said. “It’s to benefit the younger girls — for them to grow up and be able to make a living playing the sport, just like their brothers and their male friends.

“And that’s what really fuels me every day — how can we find that infrastructure that will allow the best players in the world to play under one umbrella, to provide a livable wage while doing so, and showcase the best product of women’s hockey?”

She also holds out hope of competing in one more Olympics after capturing a gold medal in 2018 at PyeongChang and a silver in 2014 at Sochi.

In the meantime, those medals continue to get a workout.

“When it comes to their medals, some athletes believe in a keep-it-in-a-box policy,” she said. “But I try to bring them out as much as I can — especially with kids. Mine have been dropped on ice and on concrete, scratched and scuffed. They have definitely had their share of bumps and bruises. But I think there’s so much value to having someone physically hold a gold medal and dream about it, or be inspired by it.”

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