Part of the generation that helped reignite the passion for women’s hockey, contributing to a modern rebirth, Maria Rooth was among one of the greatest players to represent Sweden. Part of the 2015 IIHF Hall of Fame Class, Rooth became the first European women’s player inducted, a remarkable milestone for such a distinguished athlete.
Proudly acknowledging fellow IIHF Hall of Fame inductee Fran Rider (who became the first woman inducted into the Builder’s Category) and her efforts to build the game internationally, it reflected Rooth’s appreciation for the game. In addition, Monique Scheier-Schneider of Luxembourg was recognized as the recipient of the Paul Loicq Award.
Making her debut for Sweden (Damkronorna) at the 1997 IIHF Women’s Worlds in Kitchener, Ontario, the fans on-hand were witnessing the beginning of one of the greatest careers by a European player. Part of the historic 1998 Nagano Winter Games, which played host to the inaugural women’s ice hockey tournament, Rooth was among a group of 18 year-old players that would carve a strong legacy in the game. Among them were Jennifer Botterill for Canada and a young American named Jenny Schmidgall (later Potter) who would play alongside Rooth at the NCAA level.
Raised in the community of Angelholm, the 35-year old Rooth devoted close to two decades to the game she loved. Not just competing in Sweden, Rooth made a significant impact at the NCAA level in the United States. Coincidentally, she played for Shannon Miller (Canada’s head coach at Nagano 1998) at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. With teammates such as Schmidgall and Caroline Ouellette (who would go on to win four consecutive gold medals at the Winter Games), the three composed a multi-national hockey trinity that propelled the UMD program to capture the first three NCAA Women’s Frozen Four championships.
In only 92 games with the UMD Bulldogs, Rooth accumulated an astounding 164 points (82 goals, 82 assists) while serving as captain for the Frozen Four championship teams of 2002 and 2003. Complemented by Miller’s belief in her abilities, Rooth set a precedent for European players to stake their claim in NCAA women’s hockey.
Adding to her historic legacy in the hockey hotbed of Minnesota is the fact that she became the first European player in NCAA Division I women’s hockey history to have her number retired. Earning consecutive nods to the JOFA/AHCA Division I First-Team All-Americans in 2001 and 2002, Rooth was also the first-ever winner of the NCAA Women’s Frozen Four Most Valuable Player Award in 2001.
With her number 27 being raised to the rafters on February 26, 2005, there was an extra element which added to the jubilation. As the Bulldogs defeated the No. 2 ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers by a 4-2 tally in front of a record crowd of 3,001 fans (since broken), the winning goaltender for the Bulldogs was also European. Riitta Schaublin made 40 saves, adding to the Bulldogs growing legacy of recruiting European players. As a side note, Rooth would return to the program for the 2010-11 season as an assistant coach under Shannon Miller’s tutelage.
Internationally, she helped Sweden to a pair of milestones in the Winter Games. At the 2002 edition of the Games, Rooth was one of the emotional leaders for a Swedish squad that upset Finland for the bronze medal, the first in the country’s history. Fast forward four years later, and Rooth remained on-hand for the biggest upset in the history of women’s ice hockey at the Winter Games. Known forever as the Swedish “Mirakel”, Rooth scored twice to help the squad battle back from a 2-0 deficit against a powerhouse United States squad. Logging the winning tally in the shootout, Sweden advanced to the gold medal game at the 2006 Torino Winter Games.
Despite losing to a determined Canadian squad by a 4-1 tally, the game had a trio of historical events. Not only did Canada become the first country to capture Winter Games gold in women’s hockey on back-to-back occasions, but Cassie Campbell became the first women’s hockey captain to lead her team to consecutive golds. Sweden’s impact was defined by the fact that it marked the first time in modern women’s hockey history that a gold medal was not contested between Canada and the United States.
As the previous generation of women’s hockey players see the sun set on their careers, the accolades and honors provide rays of shining encouragement. Appearing for Sweden in 265 games, she helped pave the way for a new generation of stars such as Erika Holst, Danijela Rundqvist and Pernilla Winberg. As a side note, fellow teammate, goaltender Kim Martin, is another deserving Swedish candidate for the Hall. Perhaps the greatest reward is the fact that such stars have helped give young female players role models to look up to and emulate. Stating in her acceptance speech that it was important to remind people it’s not just a men’s game, the reality is that Rooth’s efforts and contributions to the game have helped to shatter the myth, ensuring that an even stronger future lay ahead.
Main image obtained from: http://www.hd.se/sport/2015/05/17/maria-rooth-i-hall-of-fame-storre-blir-det-inte/
Photo credits: Daniel Rooth