Women’s Hockey: Kendall Coyne eager to fulfill Olympic dream
By Pat Disabato firstname.lastname@example.org January 3, 2014 11:32PM
Team Canada's Jayna Hefford, left, and Lauriane Rougeau, right, collide with Team USA's Kendall Coyne during the first period of an exhibition hockey game in Toronto, Monday, Dec. 30, 2013. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Mark Blinch) ORG XMIT: MDB105
Updated: February 6, 2014 6:33AM
Kendall Coyne knows the precise moment when she began to dream of one day representing the United States in the Olympics.
“I went to Cammi Granato’s hockey camp in 1999,” said Coyne, just 7 years old at the time. “She brought out her gold medal and her Olympic jersey (from the 1998 Olympics) to show everyone. I said to myself, ‘I want to do that.’ My goal from that moment was to win a gold medal one day.”
Coyne will have a chance to fulfill that ambition next month as a member of the U.S. women’s hockey team. The Palos Heights resident and Sandburg graduate is one of 21 members intent on bringing home the top prize at the Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“I’m so excited,” said Coyne, a 5-foot-2 forward. “I’m so proud to represent the South Side. I’ve had so many people contact me and congratulate me. The support has been amazing.”
It’s been an amazing journey for Coyne, who first strapped a pair of skates on to her feet at age 3 at Southwest Ice Arena.
Soon after she fell in love with hockey.
The local hockey scene, though, was void of girls teams, which forced her to play hockey with the boys — whom, she said, weren’t always willing to accept her.
That is, until she showed the skills and toughness to compete with them.
Coyne acknowledged that competing with the boys played a major role in her development to play at a high level.
“Growing up I always played with the boys,” she said. “There were no girls teams. It made a big difference in my game to be able to practice with the boys three days a week. Boys are so competitive, and they were so focused for the hour and 20 minutes we practiced.
“You had to be ready to work hard, especially being a girl. I had a target on my back, but it was a privilege to play with them. I’m fortunate they allowed me to.”
Coyne played with the Chicago Chill and Chicago Mission boys AAA organizations. At 15, she joined the Mission girls 19-U team and also Team USA.
A left-handed shot, Coyne had a knack for finding the back of the net, even more so when she began skating exclusively with girls teams. It didn’t hurt that she ate, drank and slept hockey.
Her dedication to the sport so intense, she didn’t attend a single Sandburg football game, nor did she attend any homecoming dances or prom.
She was too busy working on her slap shot to attend social activities, instead traveling overseas to Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and Finland to compete in international tournaments.
“I really didn’t have time to socialize at Sandburg,” she said. “I was always playing hockey.”
It was after a game with the U.S. National Team on Dec. 20 in North Dakota when Coyne received official word of making the Olympic squad. While the news filled the 21-year-old with pride, it also was somewhat bittersweet.
“It was an emotional day,” she said. “It was difficult seeing the girls who didn’t make the team getting released. I was more relieved more than anything knowing I made it.”
When she returned the following day to her family’s home in Palos Heights, she broke the good news to her parents (mom, Ahlise; dad, John) and siblings (brothers Kevin and Jake; and sister, Bailey).
“It was a teary-eyed moment,” Coyne said. “My parents told me they were going to go to the Olympics, too. The Palos Heights community has a lot to do with that happening.”
Make no mistake, Coyne is proud of her hometown. So much in fact that during interviews, she makes certain when asked where she’s from, it’s “Palos Heights, not Chicago.”
One of her favorite stops while in town is the Plush Horse for some ice cream.
“My dad brought me a quart when I was home,” the Palos South Middle School graduate said.
Once the Olympics are over, Coyle will return to Northeastern University in the fall semester for her junior year — she took this school year off. In the previous two years as a member of the Northeastern women’s team, she’s recorded 63 goals and 50 assists in 65 games.
A communications major, Coyne has plans of playing in the 2018 Olympics. As far as career plans, whatever or wherever it is, she hopes it involves hockey.
“My dream is to work in the NHL and stay involved in hockey,” she said. “As long as it’s something to do with the game, I’ll be happy. Right now I’m focused on the Olympics. We want to bring home a gold medal.”
All the way to Palos Heights.