A new league for a new mom as Kendall Coyne Schofield relishes her return to hockey with PWHL launch

Kendall Coyne Schofield is relishing her return to hockey, and doing so as a first-time mother

John Wawrow
Thursday 28 December 2023 12:10 GMT
PWHL Returning from Pregnancy Hockey
PWHL Returning from Pregnancy Hockey

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Years from now, once her six-month-old son is mature enough to appreciate his upbringing, Kendall Coyne Schofield looks forward to sharing pictures and video of road trips the two will have enjoyed together during the Professional Women’s Hockey League’s inaugural season.

Coyne Schofield can already envision the possibilities of spending time at various rinks, hotels and airports, and Drew being doted upon by his many new aunties, aka, her PWHL Minnesota teammates.

“It will definitely be really special to look back at pictures with him and explain the journey that he was on for the first few years of his life, whether he wants to believe us or not,” she said.

The experiences mother and son will enjoy go much deeper for Coyne Schofield, a three-time Olympian and former U.S. captain. In preparing for Minnesota’s opener at Boston on Jan. 3, the game will underline Coyne Schofield’s determination in returning to competitive play, which some questioned was possible after taking leave from the national team a year ago.

“When I first announced my pregnancy, the first comment that I got out of a majority of people’s mouths were, `Oh, so you’re retiring,'” Coyne Schofield recalled.

Rather than being an end, this is but a new beginning.

“I’m 31 years old and I would argue I’m still in the prime of my career,” she said. “I want to make sure that (Drew) knew he was never the reason I stopped playing hockey. He was the reason I continued to play hockey.”

Coyne Schofield is hardly the first elite female athlete to return to competition after giving birth. She joins the likes of tennis star Serena Williams, Olympic swimmer Dara Torres, Alex Morgan and many other famous soccer moms, and hockey’s Natalie Spooner, who rejoined Canada’s roster in April some four months after having her first child.

Coyne Schofield certainly won’t be the last at a time the international women’s sports landscape is expanding, and with the commitments the PWHL has in place to assist new moms, who will face a 24-game schedule into early May that includes road trips and occasional games on consecutive days.

Aside from maternity leave being included in a collective bargaining agreement Coyne Schofield played a role in negotiating — it was ratified on July 2, the same weekend Drew was born — she said she was recently informed the league will provide a nanny for players' children through their first birthday.

This was an unexpected and pleasant surprise for Coyne Schofield, given she and Drew are initially making the move to the Twin Cities on their own, while her husband, Michael Schofield, continues his career as an NFL offensive lineman.

“I was almost in tears because that’s life-changing. And it’s life-changing for others, too, who may not have kids yet,” she said. “It’s knowing like, `Wow, I may be able to play hockey a lot longer. I don’t have to decide between having a kid and having a career. I can have both.'”

That’s a major departure for Coyne Schofield after spending the days leading up to the PWHL’s exclusive free agency period in September worried whether she’d get an offer.

“It was definitely nerve-wracking,” she said. “I was like, `I don’t know if anyone will still value me or see me like the player I was before I got pregnant.'”

She need not have worried after becoming one of the first three players signed by Minnesota.

The team’s general manager, Natalie Darwitz, said she once faced a similar choice between child and career upon being offered a job as head coach at Hamline University in Minnesota. Darwitz initially declined before the athletic director insisted they work around her schedule.

“I think, as a society, we have to scrub our brains. This isn’t an either-or. This isn’t, something has to give. It’s how do we adapt?” Darwitz said.

“I was coaching when I was pregnant, so my players would see me with the kids at the rink. And that’s important for them to see that you can do both,” she said. ”(The AD) instilled a big value in me, and I was able to now pay it forward. And maybe Kendall one day will be in a position to pay it forward. And that’s how you make change.”

Toronto PWHL coach Troy Ryan is no stranger to welcoming back players after they give birth, having done so most recently with Spooner in his other job as Canada’s national team coach.

It stunned Ryan to learn of Coyne Schofield’s fears of being under-valued for juggling parenthood.

“It’s unfortunate any player would have to think that way, and especially a player of her capabilities,” Ryan said. “We should be creating an environment where they have every opportunity to play at the highest level possible. And if we don’t provide those opportunities, we should be ashamed of ourselves.”

Coyne Schofield said coming back from giving birth shouldn’t be any different than dealing with a player returning from a year-long injury. She said her objective to return at her best has fueled her workouts, while also being reminded of her new responsibilities as a mom each time she returns home.

“My son is so excited to see me when I walk in the door. He doesn’t care how tired I am. He’s like, `Let’s go. It’s time to play,’” Coyne Schofield said with a laugh. “I will say, it’s a different tired than I’ve ever been. But it’s the best kind of tired there is.”

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AP hockey: https://apnews.com/hub/hockey

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