SAN JOSE, Calif. – Brianna Decker stood on the concourse at SAP Center Saturday night as Blades the Bruin, Boston’s mascot, gave her a congratulatory pat at the NHL All-Star Game.
That was hours after the gold-medal Team USA player found out she was $25,000 richer.
Decker told USA TODAY Sports she was honored to demonstrate the Premier Passer competition during the NHL All-Star Skills Competition and had no idea until well after the exhibition concluded that she had recorded a faster time than any of the NHL players.
“I didn’t really know until somebody posted a video,” Decker said. “Then it started going viral. I was shocked about it. I wasn’t expecting that at all.”
Decker had an unofficial time of 1:06, three seconds faster than the winning time recorded by Edmonton Oilers All-Star forward Leon Draisaitl in the competition. Draisaitl earned $25,000 for finishing first.
That unofficial time – since NBC didn’t broadcast it – was captured by Abby Sorkin, a junior at Scripps College in Southern California who attended the Skills Competition.
“I was sitting in my seat after the Premier Passer competition was finished and looked at my video and was like, ‘Wait. Hang on. I think Brianna did it faster,'” Sorkin told USA TODAY Sports.
She tweeted that video out late Saturday night and, hours later, the #paydecker movement was on.
Decker, 27, indeed got paid Saturday, but it was by hockey equipment manufacturer CCM.
“I’ve been with them for a while, so I was pretty thankful,” Decker said of CCM. “They have been so consistent in growing both sides of the game – men and women – and at the same time the opportunity all came from the NHL, too. We wouldn’t be there without the NHL inviting us. I’m thanking CCM like 100 times, but I’m also thanking the NHL.”
Decker mentioned meeting and getting a selfie with Sorkin at the NHL All-Star Game Fan Fair on Saturday. Sorkin said her mother asked jokingly if she would get a cut of the money. For the record, Sorkin doesn’t want any monetary compensation.
“I wanted to put (the video) out there so she can get the credit she deserves,” Sorkin said. “I didn’t expect anything to come out of it. I thought it was only going to be seen by my (Twitter) circle.”
The NHL later announced that it would donate $25,000 to charity on behalf of each of the four women’s players who were part of the skills competition. The players will choose where that money is distributed.
Decker and Team Canada’s Renata Fast and Rebecca Johnston previewed the events at the skills competition, while Team USA’s Kendall Coyne Schofield became the first woman to compete in the skills competition.
More: The good, bad from NHL All-Star Skills Competition
More: Injured Nathan MacKinnon shows up to avoid suspension
With the interest the women’s Olympians drew this year, would the NHL consider finding a way to include them more in future All-Star weekends?
“I think that is certainly a possibility,” said deputy commissioner Bill Daly. “We hoped to step it up a bit this year and circumstances allowed it to happen. We would hope we have similar opportunities in the future.”
The NHL did face some backlash over not paying the four players, but Decker said money was never the point of their inclusion. Rather, they were here to promote the three-game USA vs. Canada Rivalry Series from Feb. 12-17.
“To me, it’s all about getting us exposure and that’s what we did this weekend,” Decker said. “It was great to have Coyner actually skate in the competition and compete with the guys. That was pretty impressive to me. Just being able to be out there with the guys and demo those skills and interact with the fans, that’s what’s been great this weekend.”
Coyne was a last-minute replacement for injured Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon. She finished seventh out of the eight skaters in the event and told reporters afterward that “the NHL took that stance” for equality.
After the race, Oilers star Connor McDavid, the event winner, said Coyne started so strong that he thought she was going to win it.
“They have been so welcoming,” Decker said. “It was great to be on the ice and interact with them. “They were supportive.”
USA TODAY Sports asked her twice whether women’s players should be a paid part of future NHL All-Star weekends. She politely sidestepped the question both times.
“I am thankful for the opportunity,” Decker replied the second time she was asked.
Sorkin, however, went on the record.
“Honestly, the women were the best part of the entire experience for me,” Sorkin said. “Maybe it’s because I’m a girl and I’m biased. They are athletes who deserved to be recognized.”
Contributing: Kevin Allen