NOTE: This post originally appeared in the Des Plaines Valley News
When Kendall Coyne was 6 years old, growing up in Palos Heights with her hockey-playing older brother Kevin, she was mesmerized by the sight of future Hockey Hall of Famer and Downers Grove native Cammi Granato, at the 1998 Winter Olympics.
Granato and Team USA took the gold medal that year.
Coyne's passion for hockey never abated, and she showed considerable skills early. She was a member of the U-18 national team at age 15, then the U-19 amateur team, the Chicago Mission of the Triple-A Midwest Elite league, at 18.
According to other news profiles of Coyne, she has skated in workouts with several pros, including NHL players Rene Bourque and Tim Stapleton.
Now, it's Coyne's turn to represent the United States in Olympic women's ice hockey. Now 21, the Sandburg High School graduate and 5-foot, 2-inch forward will be flying to Sochi this month to practice with the team.
She took time from her preparations to answer a few questions for the Desplaines Valley News:
Q: Kendall, congratulations on making the Olympic hockey team! What did it mean to you to make the team?
A: It was a dream come true. To be able to live out your childhood dream is indescribable, but it meant that all of the sacrifices that not only I made, but also my entire family has made for me to play this game has finally paid off.
Q: You grew up in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. Tell me about your hockey background. Where did you play? Who encouraged you as a little girl/young hockey player to follow your dreams?
A: I grew up playing at the Southwest Ice Arena in Crestwood and the Orland Park Ice Arena, known today as Arctic Ice Arena. I started playing travel when I was 11 for the Chicago Chill and then switched to the Chicago Mission when I was 14. I grew up playing boys hockey. When I was too small to play in games with the boys, I would practice with the boy’s team and the girl’s team and then play games with the girls. I did this all the way up until college.
When I was younger my older brother, Kevin (24) aspired me to play hockey. I was brought to the rink for his practices and games and I always wanted to be like him.
Q: You also tried out for the U.S. team in 2010. What lessons did you learn from not making the team the first time?
A: It taught me to never give up and to come that close and not make the team didn’t leave a satisfied feeling. It motivated me to dedicate the next three years to be ready for tryouts for these Games.
Q: How has your family encouraged/influenced you?
A: My family has had the biggest impact on me as a person and a player. They love me no matter what and it is always nice to come home knowing they care about me as a person. Hockey is always second. People often say I am a hard worker, but I have never seen harder workers than my parents. They have had the biggest influence on me as a person and player.
Q: What personal qualities make you a good hockey player?
A: My biggest asset is my speed and always having a team-first mentality.
Q: Who will be the USA women's toughest competition in Sochi, and what is the Olympic team doing to prepare themselves now?
A: Every team is our toughest competition at the Olympics. We need to take it: game by game, period by period, and shift by shift in order to be successful. Canada is our biggest rival. We are training six days a week. Two hours on the ice, two hours off the ice, video sessions, and a lot of team bonding. We have been playing local boys varsity prep school teams in Massachusetts in preparation for the games.
Q: Do you feel the women's hockey game is as respected as the men's game?
A: I feel the women’s game has made significant strides in gaining respect. People are starting to watch our games, and have nothing but compliments about the game afterwards.
Q: Who are your role models/heroes in this sport? How did they get you to where you are today? And do you see yourself as a role model for little girls who want to play hockey?
A: Growing up my role model was always Cammi Granato. She was from the Chicagoland area and I went to her camp in 1999 when I was 7 years old. I was able to touch her gold medal from the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, and be on the ice with her for a week. That is the first time I realized that girls win gold medals and boys win Stanley Cups. I wanted to be like Cammi and do what she did.
I see myself as a role model to younger girls and I try to be the best role model I can because that one-week with Cammi lit a fire inside me for a lifetime. I hope I can do the same to younger girls as she did for me when I was 7.
Q: What are you most looking forward to at the Olympics?
Q: Do you see a day when there will be a professional women's hockey league in America, like the CWHL in Canada?
A: There is a team in Boston that is in the CWHL called the Boston Blades. This league has the potential to grown into something really big one day. It is getting there.
Q: Do you have professional ambitions to play hockey?
A: If that is where life takes me after college, then yes. I am not sure yet.
Q: What would you say to the pee-wee hockey players of today who will see you in Sochi?
A: It takes a lot of hard work to get to the Olympics, but it isn’t that hard if you love what you are doing every day. Have fun!