Southland's 'Silver Medal Sweetheart' Comes Home

Sandburg High School welcomed back its own Olympic star and alumna, Kendall Coyne.

U.S. Women's Hockey silver medalist Kendall Coyne returned to Sandburg High School Friday, March 21.
U.S. Women's Hockey silver medalist Kendall Coyne returned to Sandburg High School Friday, March 21.
Team USA Olympian Kendall Coyne donned her silver medal during a stop to her high school alma mater Friday, March 21.

The 21-year-old hockey player and Palos Height native spoke to the students, signed autographs—and even sent a few slapshots hurling at Coach Mike White during an assembly. 

Coyne returned to the school to share the glory of her 2014 Sochi Winter Games Olympic silver medal, won after narrowly losing to Canada 3-2 in overtime. Coyne scored two goals and made four assists during the February Olympic games. The visit was surreal to Coyne, who graduated just four years ago. 

"It's exciting, to be able to share this with the kids," Coyne said. "It's really special to come back."

With her women's hockey silver medal sparkling around her neck, Coyne chatted with students most of the morning, quickly shifting from photo shoot to signing autographs. She handed over the medal to students, some even draping it around their neck for a photo. 

Coyne kept her Olympic dreams quiet when she attended Sandburg; women's hockey wasn't well-recognized as a sport.

"The growth of the game is incredible," she said. "Today, there are girls lacing up, and it's awesome.

"If I can inspire one kid to accomplish their dream—if ti's sports, music, then that's great."

Coyne stressed to students to push past obstacles that might stand in their way. The 5-foot-2 lefty spent her early years in skates playing boys' hockey—later being touted by NBC as an "NHL player in a woman's body"

"I might be the smallest person on the roster, but I have to play like I'm six feet tall," Coyne said.

Coyne's former counselor Janice Blaschek was one of hundreds who filed through the line for a photo and autograph—and for Blaschek and a select few, a hug. 

"She's just phenomenal," Blaschek said. "She's always upbeat. We're just so thrilled that all this has happened to her." 

Coyne kept her pursuit of skating out of the school, hitting the ice mostly on weekends. It wasn't always easy, Blaschek said, and she knew Coyne must have struggled, but she always kept it in check. She was breathless at seeing Coyne on the Olympic ice, and pleasantly surprised that she responded to her emails while in Russia. 

"We know she'll always come back," Blaschek said. 

Superintendent Dr. Jim Gay isn't shy about Coyne's roots, often bragging to other administrators about her ties to Sandburg.

"I think it's great for the students to see a successful alum," Gay said."It brings it more home, makes it personal. I was just so proud of her, and of the team.

"Our students go off to their success, and not often do we get to celebrate with them. 

"I was just so proud of her, and of the team."

While Coyne is home in the suburbs, she'll intern with the Chicago Blackhawks and coach a team of 13-year-old girls' hockey players, with West Coast Select. She'll return to Northeastern University in the fall, for her junior year. 

With the Olympics behind her, Coyne will continue honing her skills, while interning with the Chicago Blackhawks and coaching a team of 13-year-old girls' hockey players with West Coast Select. She'll also focus on spending time with her family and sharing the experience with them. 

"They couldn't care less if I was the best hockey player, or the worst hockey player," Coyne said. "I'm still Kendall to them. 

"They sacrificed a lot for me to get here." 

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