Love stems from loss for Kendall Coyne
Day after day, a 3-year-old Kendall Coyne was dragged to her big brother's hockey games and practices in her hometown of Palos Heights, Ill.
But that didn't mean she was just going to sit quietly and watch.
"I was a little rink rat who would always find a place to play knee hockey while we were waiting for Kevin," the Northeastern junior-to-be and 2014 Olympic hopeful said. "I literally had holes in every pair of sweatpants I owned."
So her parents decided to fortify her wardrobe with a pair of figure skates. That experiment lasted all of a few days. They swapped the figure skates for some hockey blades, and Coyne had found her love. She sped her way through levels of skating skills classes, and a competitor was born.
"I always wanted to be like my brother," Coyne said. "When I was learning to skate, I knew I wasn't as good as him and I wanted to get better."
When Coyne was 4, she played on a team that often practiced on an overflow outdoor rink. Showing up at 7 each morning with a coat over her jersey, she would skate and scrimmage in subzero temperatures. The smell of the brisk winter air, the sound of her skates cutting across the ice and the exhilaration of connecting with the puck enthralled the youngster.
While those memories are vivid, it was her team's first loss that cemented her love of the ice.
"I just remember how bad it felt to lose," she said, "and I wanted to do everything in my power to make sure it never happened again."
Since then, Coyne's growing devotion has mirrored the rise of women's hockey in the U.S. As a left winger and center, Coyne mostly played with the boys until she was 15, when the United States fielded an under-18 team for the inaugural International Ice Hockey Federation World Women's U-18 Championship in Canada. She was the youngest person chosen for the team that won the gold medal.
"That was the first time I realized that this could be a real opportunity for me," she said.
She recalls being awestruck by her teammates as well as the Canadians' infatuation with the sport.
"It was by far the coolest thing I had ever done," Coyne said. "Before that I had never seen girls older than me who could play hockey like that. From that time on, I couldn't see myself doing anything but hockey."
Coyne was named one of Team USA's best players of the tournament.
Now a 20-year-old emerging star with honors and trophies overflowing from her bedroom, Coyne still traces her affection back to those first moments on skates.
"It's hard to describe," said Coyne, who hopes to hear her name called when the national team is announced in Lake Placid, N.Y., on June 23. "It's just a love inside that was there from day one. If I didn't love it, I couldn't do it every day."