One of the fun questions entering an event like the Winter Olympics is figuring out who will be the breakout stars. It’s still far too early to say anything definitively, but based on the Team USA women’s hockey team’s 3-1 win over Finland on Sunday morning, forward Kendall Coyne has immediately put herself into the running.
There were a lot of impressive players on the ice for the Americans in their Pyeongchang debut, including Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Hilary Knight, but it was Coyne who stood out much of the game. She might be the fastest player in the world, and she used that to repeatedly expose the Finnish defense for scoring chances in the win.
In the end, Coyne led all American forwards with over 20 minutes of playing time, finished second with five shots on goal, and sniped home the score that put the U.S. ahead for good. She was so good that the team eventually shook up its lines to place her back next to Knight and Brianna Decker, a line that’s been really dangerous for them in the past.
Coyne, an Oak Lawn, Ill., native, also was part of Team USA’s best play of the night. The team had managed to keep the puck in the offensive zone during a scramble, and when Knight came out of it with the puck, she had the chance at a glorious royal road one-timer that Coyne sent below the crossbar for a 2-1 lead.
It was the kind of super-skilled play that defines the Americans at their best, and showed why they have a chance at winning this tournament, as good as Canada looked in its 5-0 win over Olympic Athletes from Russia hours later. (If you want to check out the highlight, video is included in this recap from NBC.)
The other big reason for optimism with Team USA coming out of the win over Finland is their speed. They came flying out of the gates to open the game with overwhelming tempo, and while the Finns responded for a while with responsible play, the Americans were able to wear them down eventually.
Coyne’s skating ability played a big factor in that. The international hockey ice is much larger than what we typically see in North America, and all that space puts a premium on players who can really scoot across the ice. That’s part of why the U.S. and Canada always have an advantage in these games — they’re just faster. And there’s nobody faster on Team USA than Coyne. She flies out there.
This was apparent constantly throughout the game, whether she was going east-west to break up a play in the neutral zone or boosting straight ahead around a defenseman to create a partial breakaway. Coyne is going to be faster than pretty much much anyone else she shares the ice with, and that makes her immediately noticeable even for those of us watching at home.
Team USA still has a tough road to winning its first Olympic gold medal since 1998, as Canada dominated the series of pre-tournament tune-up games in recent months. Much of the proceedings will feel like a precursor to those matchups, with the first coming in the group stage Wednesday morning.
But the first game was a solid showing, and signaled that the U.S. may have another star to lean on in Coyne. Get familiar because you’ll probably hear her name a whole lot over the next 10 days.