Coyne instrumental in U.S. regaining world title
By Tim Cronin
It was a simple play, one attempted often but not always executed with the precision needed to succeed.
Kendall Coyne made that play Saturday afternoon in Malmo, Sweden, doing so at the time her team -- the U.S. women’s hockey team -- needed it most.
The Americans and rival Canada were tied at 5-all with less than nine minutes left in regulation. The championship game of the Women’s World Championship had already seen wide-open river hockey in the first period when the U.S. took a 4-2 lead and Canada’s second-period counterpunch, which consisted of three goals in just over two minutes, the last of which knotted the score.
The third period was closer to both teams’ core: tight checking, defense first, chances taken only after assessing the risks.
Risk assessment was what Palos Heights native and Sandburg graduate Coyne did while leaving the U.S. zone in traffic along the left-wing boards. She fired a quick pass -- which was banked off the boards so it would elude a Canadian defender -- ahead to linemate Hilary Knight.
Without playing the proper angle, the puck likely skitters away or gets picked off and the Canadians suddenly would have had numbers flooding the U.S. zone. But Coyne’s pass was perfect and Knight gobbled it up at full speed -- with company.
“Actually, I recall looking to go cross-ice to [Brianna] Decker,” Coyne said. “But the defenseman was there, so I put it up the boards. And if it got past Hilary, she’s one of the best players in the world [so] she’d know what to do.”
Some 30 feet to Knight’s right was Decker, the third member of the line, who was also flying. Only one Canadian defender was back. The duo breezed into the Canadian zone, Knight flicked the puck to Decker at the perfect time and Decker hammered it home for a 6-5 lead with 8 minutes and 18 seconds remaining.
The Canadians had no answer. One hooking penalty later the U.S. power play struck, Coyne doing the striking. She grabbed a rebound to the left of Canada’s net, scooted around it and went to the high slot.
“We were overloading the right side, so I took it high,” Coyne said. “I was looking to pass.”
Instead, she whistled a wrist shot past goaltender Genevieve Lacasse with 6:42 left for the insurance goal in the Americans’ 7-5 title-game victory.
It was hardly a surprise that Coyne was in the middle of it all when the game was on the line. She scored the gold medal-winning goals in the first two Women’s World Junior championships, doing so in sudden-death overtime on the second occasion. What would have been the winning goal the third straight year was wiped out by an incorrect call.
And when she finally made the Olympic squad, Coyne was a big threat on the biggest stage of all as she paced the U.S. in scoring.
The seed for Saturday’s victory might well have been planted then, 14 months ago, in Sochi, Russia. The Americans led Canada late in the Olympic championship game, only to see the Canadians tie the score in the third period and win in overtime. And while the U.S. had claimed the previous four world championships, Canada has won the Olympic title since the second tournament in 1994.
Most of the 2014 American team was back, but the coach was new as Ken Klee is now behind the bench. He had to instill a new attitude while using an old wound as a spur, and do so in short order. The team assembled only after the collegiate regular season concluded -- Coyne had just finished her junior campaign at Northeastern University in Boston.
If any demons were in U.S. players’ minds after the Canadians scored thrice in 2:03 of the second period on Saturday, it wasn’t evident in the third. They buckled down defensively and then Coyne made a play. But Canada had come back before.
“[With] the veterans on the team, what’s going through their minds is exactly what you think is,” Coyne said. “But Coach Klee was great. He said, ‘Two more shifts. Bust your butt for 40 seconds each time.’”
They did and got the trophy as a reward.
“I think it’s a big relief and a big accomplishment for our girls to battle back in a game where you’re up and then it gets tied up again [and you manage] to still find a way to get it done,” Klee told IIHF.com.
Again playing bigger than her 5-foot-2 frame would suggest is possible, Coyne finished with a plus-8 defensive rating, a mark shared by Decker and Knight. Knight was named tournament MVP and was joined by Decker on the all-tourney squad. Together the three linemates piled up 30 points in five games, all victories.
Knight finished with 12 points, Decker had 11 and Coyne seven on three goals and four assists.
“Personally, it was really easy because I was playing with Brianna Decker and Kendall Coyne,” Knight said of her tournament scoring. “How do you not perform the way I performed at this tournament with those guys? Huge hats off to my linemates -- they’re phenomenal players.”
“It was definitely a back-and-forth game,” Knight said. “I’m sure the fans loved it. And obviously you can come out with a smile on your face if you played hard and you come out with a win.”
That’s especially true when the outcome of a year ago can be left on the tarmac before the flight home.
For Coyne, it’s three golds and a silver in world and Olympic competition, a glittering resume that, aside from players in her group, few American hockey players can match. But the player who as a kid told her mom that figure skating wouldn’t cut it -- “I need the sport,” she said all those years ago -- is eager for more.
How long will she play?
“As many times as my body will allow,” Coyne said.