PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – He clutched a Bud Light and shifted back and forth on his mammoth feet. He had red, white and blue Christmas lights draped around his neck and over his Team USA jersey, but he wasn’t exactly festive.
“I’m freakin’ out!” he said.
Michael Schofield was the biggest person at the rink on Sunday. He’s also probably the only person to set foot in the Kwandong Hockey Centre who has played in the NFL. And yet he was possibly the most nervous one there. This was the first time he’d seen his fiancée play in the Olympics.
Kendall Coyne scored the game-winning goal right in front of him. It was a beautiful one-timer on a pass from Hilary Knight, and it put the Americans in the lead in the second period, on the way to a 3-1 opening victory over Finland. For most American fans, Coyne’s goal was a huge relief.
For Schofield, it was truly wonderful … but not quite enough to soothe the nerves.
“So far, so good,” he cautiously offered.
Throughout the game, the PA announcer in the arena asked fans to please keep their seats. It was odd for a hockey game, in a sport where many around the world leap to their feet regularly with excitement. Schofield did not heed this warning. He couldn’t sit still, or sit anywhere, really.
“We always say it’s worse watching than it is playing,” Coyne laughed after the game. “So I can only imagine.”
There has been a lot written about the ultimate sports power couple, Zach and Julie Ertz. He is a Super Bowl champion for the Eagles; she is a World Cup champion for the U.S. national women’s soccer team. But you can make the argument that this couple were the Ertz’s first. Two years ago, almost to the day, Schofield started on the Denver Broncos team that won the Super Bowl over the Carolina Panthers. Weeks later, Coyne won the Heisman of women’s hockey – the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award. He’s now a free agent after playing the 2017 season with the Chargers, and she is a silver medalist who is going for gold.
The two are starkly, almost hilariously different. She is 5-2, 126 pounds, and whip quick. He is 6-6, 310, and slightly less quick. They are quite the match though, and it’s pretty obvious from talking to one about the other.
“He’s definitely my biggest fan; he’s our biggest fan,” Coyne said.
They went to the same high school, a grade apart, but they didn’t meet until he was back home in Chicago preparing for the NFL draft in 2014. He noticed her with a cast on one hand from surgery, and yet still doing dumbbell snatches with the other. He marveled at that, and he’s still marveling – at her speed, her skill, her chance to represent her country at the Olympics. There’s no tough-guy attitude when it comes to talking about her.
Schofield went in the third round to Denver a few weeks after meeting Coyne, while she went back to Northeastern for school. They were long-distance for a while, but then she graduated and moved to Colorado. There they would help each other train. Michael would strap on skates and provide an enormous obstacle for Kendall to get around. She would lace up sneakers and help her boyfriend with his footwork by scooting around him. Last year, Michael took her to her favorite ice cream shop and proposed. They’re set to marry later on in 2018. (They are registered at Bed, Bath and Beyond, for anyone who might be curious.)
“Knowing what each other is going through is a pretty awesome opportunity,” Coyne said on Sunday. “Whether it’s calming or just saying how’s your day going, it’s an awesome dynamic.”
Coyne is going to be a major problem for opponents in these Games. She is insanely fast, and even though Finland did the hockey version of stacking the box against the American skaters on Sunday, Coyne weaved through and around them on many occasions. The U.S. attack is more freewheeling than it was when the team finished second in 2014, and that makes Coyne even more trouble. She had 12 points in five games at World Championships last year, and the Americans won gold.
Schofield was there for that too, but this is another level.
“It’s everything I hoped for and more,” he said Sunday.
It’s going to get tougher for the Americans as they face the Russians on Tuesday followed by Team Canada.
That means it’s going to get tougher for Michael to watch.
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