State of Hockey welcomes trio of U.S. Olympians inked to three-year deals
TORONTO, ON (September 6, 2023) – The Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) today announced the first three players to sign free agent contracts with the league’s Minnesota franchise are forwards Kendall Coyne Schofield, Kelly Pannek, and defender Lee Stecklein. The trio of U.S. Olympians have all agreed to terms on three-year deals for the 2023-24, 2024-25, and 2025-26 PWHL seasons. Salary terms will not be disclosed, as per the PWHL Players’ Association.
“With the signing of three of the top players in the world, Minnesota cements its foundation as a team built on excellence,” said Natalie Darwitz, General Manager of PWHL Minnesota. “Kendall, Lee, and Kelly’s world-class hockey skills and leadership qualities embody the level of excellence that the culture of Minnesota will be built on. We are thrilled they are the first three players to join Minnesota as we build a championship team.”
Coyne Schofield joins PWHL Minnesota as one of hockey’s all-time great leaders, both on and off the ice. The speedy forward has served as Team USA’s captain since 2019 and representing her country has compiled three Olympic medals (1 Gold, 2 Silver), nine IIHF Women’s World Championship medals (6 Gold, 3 Silver), and several additional IIHF medals at the senior, U22, and U18 level. The 31-year-old native of Palos Heights, IL had a prolific NCAA career at Northeastern University where she notably won the prestigious Patty Kazmaier Award as a senior and Huskies’ captain in 2016 after being a top-10 finalist in 2013 and 2015. Coyne Schofield played one season with the PHF’s Minnesota Whitecaps in 2018-19 and won the Isobel Cup. She became a founder of the PWHPA and played three seasons from 2019-21 and 2022-23 and served as President from 2019-23 leading into the formation of the PWHLPA.
“Signing this contract is a reflection of so many people who have worked tirelessly to make this dream a reality,” said Coyne Schofield. “I'd like to thank Mark and Kimbra Walter and Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss for embracing this endeavor and building a league alongside the vision of the players. This is monumental and it is only the beginning.”
“Minnesota is elated to welcome Kendall to the team,” said Darwitz. “Kendall is one of the premier faces of women’s hockey and was a catalyst for the creation of the Professional Women’s Hockey League. Kendall has already distinguished herself as a highly accomplished player and will have a tremendous impact on the team. She is a speedy, energetic, and dynamic two-way forward. We warmly welcome Kendall and her family to Minnesota!”
Pannek hails from Plymouth, MN and joins her home-state PWHL Minnesota team. She is a two-time Olympic medalist (1 Gold, 1 Silver) and five-time World Championship medalist (3 Gold, 2 Silver) with Team USA, and has experience donning the red, white, and blue sweater at the U18 and U22 level where she helped her team achieve podium finishes. The 27-year-old played her NCAA career at the University of Minnesota from 2014-17 and returned for a senior season in 2018-19 following the 2018 Winter Olympics. Along with back-to-back National Championships (2015, 2016), Pannek led the nation in scoring and was a First-Team All-American and a Patty Kazmaier Award top-10 finalist in 2016-17. She joined the PWHPA upon graduation and played the 2019-21 seasons and the 2022-23 campaign after the 2022 Olympic break.
“I could not be more excited to be a part of this new era of women’s professional hockey in Minnesota,” said Pannek. “I have always taken great pride in representing the State of Hockey throughout every stage of my career, and to do it now as a pro is a dream come true. I can’t wait to get to work as a part of this organization to hopefully bring home more trophies to Minnesota!”
“We are thrilled to sign Kelly and welcome her to the Minnesota Team,” said Darwitz. “Kelly is a strong two-way center with elite vision and superb playmaking skills. Kelly has been influential in Minnesota, both in growing the game of hockey and giving back to the community. We are excited to add Kelly to our Minnesota organization!”
Stecklein is also no stranger to the State of Hockey as a Roseville, MN native who played with Pannek at the University of Minnesota and with Coyne Schofield on the Minnesota Whitecaps over the course of her career. A fixture on the Team USA blue line since joining the U18 program in 2010, the 29-year-old is a three-time Olympic medalist (1 Gold, 2 Silver) and eight-time World Championship medalist (6 Gold, 2 Silver), and has collected hardware in several other international tournaments. Stecklein’s collegiate career featured three National Championships and two seasons as Golden Gophers captain as a junior and a senior. As a member of the PHF’s expansion Whitecaps, she famously scored the overtime goal to secure an Isobel Cup title. Stecklein then played in the PWHPA from 2019-21 and, upon her return from the 2022 Olympic break, won the Top Defender award in the 2022-23 season.
“I am honored to be part of the first wave of players to sign officially with the PWHL, and I am thrilled by the opportunity to continue my career in Minnesota,” said Stecklein. “Thank you to the women who stood united over these years and those who worked daily to make this league a reality!”
“Minnesota extends a warm and enthusiastic welcome to Lee,” said Darwitz. “Lee is a two-way, highly respected defender whose experience and skill set will be a great addition to the team. Lee’s positive influence extends from the locker room to throughout the Minnesota hockey community. We are fortunate to sign a player of Lee’s caliber to our team.”
The PWHL player selection process officially opened on September 1 with an initial free agency period that continues through Sept. 10. Teams are permitted to sign three players to Standard Player Agreements during this time. The 2023 PWHL Draft is scheduled for Sept. 18 where Minnesota holds the first overall pick.
Fans can stay connected to the PWHL and register for email updates at thepwhl.com. Follow the new league on all social media platforms @thepwhlofficial plus all six new team accounts @pwhl_boston, @pwhl_minnesota, @pwhl_montreal, @pwhl_newyork, @pwhl_ottawa, and @pwhl_toronto.
PWHL Director of Communications