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The first professional women's hockey league in the U.S. has a winner

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Hockey history was made last week when Minnesota beat Boston 3-0 to win the first ever Professional Women's Hockey League championship and the first-ever Walter Cup.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Schofield, an empty net, the captain - seals the deal.

RASCOE: Minnesota Team Captain Kendall Coyne Schofield scored the final goal and was also instrumental in creating the league. She joins me now. Welcome to the program.

KENDALL COYNE SCHOFIELD: Thanks so much for having me.

RASCOE: You've won Olympic medals playing for Team USA, including a gold. How does this stack up?

COYNE SCHOFIELD: I think it tops everything knowing how hard we've had to work to build and create a professional league. I think this is the new pinnacle of women's hockey, and it's been such an honor to be the first Walter Cup champions.

RASCOE: You were instrumental in creating the PWHL. Can you give us a little history on how it came to be?

COYNE SCHOFIELD: Yeah. We would need a lot of time, but I will give you the CliffNotes version of it. The Canadian Women's Hockey League folded in 2019. And just to give you a little insight of the conditions of women's hockey at that time, players were making $2,000...

RASCOE: $2,000 a season?

COYNE SCHOFIELD: Yes. I was the highest-paid player, and I played in the NWHL at that time, not the Canadian Women's Hockey League. And I was making $7,000. I didn't attend any practices because I had another job. Women's hockey players were doing everything else but just playing hockey. We had to have a full-time job that afforded us the opportunity to play hockey. And when the CWHL collapsed, a lot of us looked at each other and said, we need to change this. We can't keep accepting this. We can't keep being happy with this. Otherwise, it's going to be like this for generations to come.

So we called Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss because obviously, they've done it. They've built it. We are all living a lot of experiences and opportunities in life because of the fights that they've had before we were even born. And their recommendation, right off the hop, was, you need one voice. And we formed the Professional Women's Hockey Players Association to create a viable and a sustainable women's professional hockey league that affords us the pay, the conditions, the investment to truly be professional. And it took us five years to get there.

RASCOE: Thanks in part to stars like basketball player Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese and others, people are finally paying more attention to women's sports. The arena was sold out for your championship game. Does it seem like people are finally catching on to women's sports in general? And why do you think now?

COYNE SCHOFIELD: I have to say, go Angel Reese and go Chicago Sky. I'm a Chicago kid.

RASCOE: OK (laughter).

COYNE SCHOFIELD: So I think specifically to women's hockey, our platform, our resources are finally of the professional stature. You know, for so long, people would talk about us every four years because they would see the Olympic games, and they'd say, oh, women's hockey's on. When we were this good, we were always around. We were working every single day, but we never had the investment that it took to showcase us in the platform of professionals.

And so people would be like, where do you go? Where do I find you? And I wouldn't always be able to have an answer. You know, oh, we'll be on in six months at the world championships? I don't know if that game is going to be on TV. I don't know where you can find the game, but we'll be there. And that is not a sustainable model. That is not going to increase the awareness of women's hockey. And this year, every single game was on YouTube. All the games were on TV in the regional networks that the teams were in. Our games were being marketed. All of that cost money. And it wasn't, oh, we got to cut corners here because we're trying to pay this bill here. It was, no, this is a professional league. This is the right thing to do, and we're going to do it the right way.

RASCOE: Will you be back again to play next year?

COYNE SCHOFIELD: I have signed a three-year contract with Minnesota, so I will be back.

RASCOE: OK. Well, best of luck to you. Congratulations. That's Kendall Coyne Schofield, captain of PWHL Minnesota, the first-ever Walter Cup champion. Thanks again for joining us.

COYNE SCHOFIELD: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.