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Meteoric Rise to Prominence as Maddie Rooney Makes her Mark with Historic Victory for USA


Establishing herself as a household name with the greatest victory of her still young career, Maddie Rooney’s efforts have also mirrored two other gold medal winning goaltenders. With the women’s ice hockey gold medal at Pyeong Chang 2018 being decided in a shootout, the first-time ever in the history of the tournament, Rooney rose to the occasion while a collective effort from Gigi Marvin, Amanda Kessel and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, each scoring in a 3-2 shootout final, provided the US with one of its most emotional performances in Winter Games history.

Denying Canada’s scoring sensation Meghan Agosta, who attempted to get her second shootout goal by going through the five-hole, Rooney remained calm between the pipes, notching the biggest save of the decade for USA Hockey. With the result being the USA clinching their first gold medal in women’s ice hockey at the Winter Games since 1998, Rooney joins Sara Decosta among America’s golden goalies.

Considering that the last time a team from Canada suffered such a heartbreaking loss in the shootout took place at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games, which was also the last time Canada’s women suffered a gold medal game loss, Rooney’s win holds a haunting essence to it. Of note, the shootout loss in 1998 involved the men’s ice hockey team from Canada, suffering one of the biggest upsets in tournament history, as Dominik Hasek from the Czech Republic blanked five Canadian skaters in the semi-final win, en route to a gold medal victory versus Russia.

Adding to Rooney’s growing legend is the fact that her victory took place on the anniversary of Team USA’s Miracle on Ice, which took place at the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York. The American goalie of the 1980 Games who quickly burst into superstardom was an unknown collegiate star named Jim Craig, recording 36 saves in a 4-3 victory against the powerhouse Russians. A member of multiple Halls of Fame, Craig remains an American hockey icon, a status that Rooney is destined to enjoy due to her golden glories.

Heading into the 2017-18 season, Rooney had already established herself as one of the top goaltenders in collegiate hockey, mirroring Craig’s status. Starring for the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA), Rooney earned a spot as a member of the conference’s All-Rookie Team, in spite of a losing record of 5-12-0. She would bounce back admirably in her sophomore season, competing in 98.6% of the Bulldogs’ minutes of play, an NCAA high. Registering over 1000 saves in just 37 games played, her 25-7-5 record was enhanced by a pair of nods as the WCHA’s Defensive Player of the Month, while also gaining a spot on the conference’s All-Academic Team.

In a tinge of irony, Rooney’s head coach during her freshman season of Bulldogs hockey in 2015-16 was Laura Schuler, who served as Canada’s bench boss in Pyeong Chang. Adding to the sense of irony is the fact that Rooney was born on July 1, which is also known as Canada Day.

Worth noting, Rooney was one of multiple current and/or former Bulldogs participating in Pyeong Chang. Former All-American blueliner Sidney Morin called Rooney a teammate on Team USA, while Eveliina Suonpaa served as Raty’s backup. Three members of Canada’s contingent also consisted of Bulldog pride, as blueliners Jocelyne Larocque and Brigette Lacquette (also former All-America selections) were joined by forward Hailey Irwin. As a side note, Irwin scored one of Canada’s goals in the gold medal game. Sweden also saw Bulldog content on its roster, featuring Pernilla Winberg and Maria Lindh, while scoring sensation Lara Stalder starred for Switzerland.

From a collegiate perspective, Rooney is also part of a proud WCHA presence on Team USA. Quite possibly the greatest goalie in NCAA history, Jessie Vetter, who enjoyed multiple Frozen Four titles with Wisconsin, starred with the national team at Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014. In addition, Alex Rigsby, a fellow goaltender on this golden roster starred at Wisconsin from 2010-14, inheriting the starter’s role from Vetter.

Playing with veteran poise in PyeongChang, Rooney was victorious in her debut, which was also the first game of the women’s ice hockey tournament. The February 11 contest at the Gangeung Hockey Centre resulted in a 3-1 win versus Finland, which featured legendary backstop Noora Raty between the pipes. With Venla Hovi providing the Finns with a surprising 1-0 lead after the first period of play, three unanswered goals by Monique Lamoureux, Kendall Coyne and Dani Cameranesi erased any thoughts of an upset, simultaneously fulfilling Rooney’s potential for a glorious future between the pipes for Team USA.

Entering the gold medal game against Canada with the milestone of her first Winter Games shutout, blanking an ambitious Finland team by a convincing 5-0 tally in the semi-finals, Rooney was highly motivated to avenge her only loss of the Games, a visceral 3-2 loss to Canada in the final game of the round robin. Nullifying a Canadian power play opportunity in the overtime frame of the gold medal game, it helped spur the belief that gold was possible for the US, while establishing Rooney as the type of goaltender capable of excelling in high-pressure situations.  

Rooney’s efforts in the shootout, keeping her composure, especially with Agosta facing her twice, avenged the painful loss suffered at Sochi 2014, while capping off a dominant Olympic cycle that saw the US capture three straight golds at the IIHF Women’s Worlds, including its first-ever on home soil in 2017. As a side note, Rooney was the youngest member of the US roster at the 2017 Worlds Plymouth, Michigan, one which also saw Rooney make an impression, shutting out Russia in her tournament debut.

Definitely the favorite to be the first overall pickl in the 2019 NWHL Draft, Rooney will return to Minnesota-Duluth as a newfound celebrity. Most likely to receive a standing ovation in many of the WCHA venues that she shall visit next season, the meteoric rise to prominence is one that has also propelled Rooney into a unique element of popular culture. With an unknown fan changing her Wikipedia entry to read her current occupation as the “Secretary of Defense”, it was certainly an earned nickname that will likely define her promising career in the great years to come. 

Photo credits: Mike Ehrmann (Getty Images) and Kim Kyung-Hoon (Reuters)


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