2019 NHL All-Star Skating Competition: Why Kendall Coyne Schofield’s performance was no fluke
One of the many highlights from this year’s 2019 NHL All-Star Skills Competition was including some of the top talents from the Canadian and American Women’s National Teams. Not only did these elite athletes compete, in some cases they were simply dominant. Take for example how Brianna Decker beat out every single NHLer in the passing competition, or how Kendall Coyne Schofield left NHL speedster Clayton Keller in her dust as she posted a competitive time to Connor McDavid’s fastest skater threepeat performance. These showings of brilliance including Coyne Schofield’s were not just flukes fueled by adrenaline, there are multiple reasons why she deserves to be known as one of hockey’s fastest skaters.
To begin, Coyne Schofield had the slowest red to blue line time of 1.3 seconds, which already set her back 0.4 seconds compared to the explosive Jack Eichel who reached the blue line in the fastest time of 0.9 seconds (keep this 0.4 seconds in the back of your mind until later). It’s been observed that male hockey players have greater lower body strength compared to their female counterparts (Budarick et al., 2018) so this is likely the cause for this gap. To compensate for this though, Coyne Schofield is doing some things that not even the fastest male skaters are doing.
Figure 1. Demonstration of Connor McDavid’s run (A) and glide (B) technique
First, Coyne Schofield is pumping out seven steps (i.e. accelerations) by the time she hits the blue line, whereas Heiskanen, Keller, Pettersson, Atkinson, Eichel, and Barzal all only fit six in before that time. The only other man to fit seven accelerations in was Connor McDavid – so checkmark to Kendall. It should, however, be noted that Coyne Schofield is about 30cm shorter than the other skaters so this does allow her to fit her extra step in, but McDavid who is reported as 28cm taller than her was able to fit a seventh in as well (aside from McDavid perhaps getting some defending Champion love on his favorable starting position). Interestingly, however, Cam Atkinson who is only 16cm taller than Coyne Schofield was only able to fit in six accelerations posted the slowest male red to blue line time at 1.2 seconds. So again, Coyne Schofield’s explosive rate off the start is no joke.
Secondly, good skating mechanics during a start are associated with a ‘run-to-glide’ technique in which the first number of strides off the start are more like a running start where the toe of the skate is angled outwards and it cuts into the ice (de Koning et al., 1995). This running technique that has a quicker stance time produces an increased accelerative force to the skater compared to the gliding push-offs. Thus, fitting more of these ‘running’ push-offs into the beginning accelerates the skater to a greater extent. Again, Heiskanen, Keller, Pettersson, Atkinson, Eichel, and Barzal all fit between 2-3 of these running push-offs, whereas McDavid (Figure 1) fits in a fourth. Incredibly, Coyne Schofield (Figure 2) was able to fit five and maybe a sixth running push-off by the time she hit the blue line and went into her gliding stride. Once again, Coyne Schofield is outperforming her male counterparts.
Figure 1. Demonstration of Kendall Coyne Schofield’s run (A) and glide technique (B)
After the start, the skaters make their first turn around the net, which is another aspect of this competition where technique plays a major role. While making this turn, the skater wants to limit the amount of gliding they are doing and fill this time and space with crossovers. These crossovers are generating an accelerative force that is pushing them forwards, whereas a glide slowly eats away at their speed because of the friction between the ice and the blade. All skaters did a solid job here in the first turn with 7-8 crossovers but once again, McDavid was able to lead the charge by fitting in a 9th crossover. This allowed him to come out of the turn with a speed of 36.9 km/h compared to Coyne Schofield’s 33.3 km/h.
Don’t count Coyne Schofield out just yet though; by the time she crosses the opposite red line at 7.4 seconds, she’s right in the mix with the pack and even tied with Keller. With McDavid though, he has already almost won the competition with a split time of 6.8 seconds.
Figure 3. The beginning (A) and end (B) of Cam Atkinson’s glide through first third of second turn. This is the distance Atkinson did not produce any acceleration through crossovers but rather lost speed due to the frictional force between the ice and the skate blades.
Next comes arguably the most important part of the competition, in which the skater must make the second turn while travelling at their highest velocities. Like the first turn, the crossover is the skater’s friend as it contributes to keeping up their velocity, whereas the glide slowly diminishes their speed as they round the corner. During this second turn, Heiskanen, Pettersson, Atkinson, and Eichel drop 1-2 crossovers compared to their first turn (Figure 3), whereas Keller and Barzal are able to hold steady at six crossovers during the turn. Coyne Schofield and McDavid however are once again at the top of the class as they were both able to fit seven crossovers into the second turn just like they were able to in the first (Figure 4). This is simply astounding as McDavid is entering this second turn with a speed of 39.5 km/h and has a slight dip in speed as he came out of it at 37.0 km/h. Coyne Schofield on the other hand, remarkably came out of the second turn producing speed as she entered it at 35.2 km/h and headed into the straight-away finish at 36.2 km/h.
Figure 4. Kendall Coyne Schofield (A) and Connor McDavid (B) crossing over through the second turn
Finally, as we come to the finish line, McDavid once again takes the crown for the third year in a row at a final time of 13.378 seconds, beating out Eichel at 13.582. Coyne Schofield finished the lap in 14.346 seconds and edged out Keller who came in at 14.526. Now it’s time to recall those 0.4 seconds Coyne Schofield had to make up off the start. If you take that away from her time, she clocks in at 13.946 seconds, which sits her very closely to the smooth-skating rookie, hard name to pronounce correctly Swede, Elias Pettersson. Considering these guys are considered to be the fastest in the game of hockey, Coyne Schofield’s performance was no fluke and she deserves to have her name among them. By all means, this blog isn’t an attack on the other guys in this skating competition, but rather a celebration of the fact that Kendall Coyne Schofield is a special talent and that size and strength aren’t everything when it comes to skating. Technique matters and as I’m sure Joe Bowen would say, holy mackinaw does she ever have great technique.
Budarick, A.R., Shell, J.R., Robbins, S.M.K., Wu, T., Renaud, P.J., Pearsall, D.J., 2018. Ice hockey skating sprints: run to glide mechanics of high calibre male and female athletes. Sports Biomech. 0, 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1080/14763141.2018.1503323
de Koning, J.J., Thomas, R., Berger, M., de Groot, G., van Ingen Schenau, G.J., 1995. The start in speed skating: from running to gliding. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 27, 1703–1708.