For the first time since 1998, when women’s hockey became an Olympic sport, there’s a goalie from Minnesota on Team USA.
Her name is Maddie Rooney who grew up playing hockey in Andover. She was officially named to the U.S. Olympic team on Jan. 1.
“I’m excited and honored to be on this team and to be playing with this amazing group of women,” Rooney said recently. “I’m really looking forward to this experience.”
At 20 years old, Rooney is the youngest player on the U.S. roster. “I always watched the Olympics growing up and I always had a dream to play on this team,” said Rooney.
Even though she participated in several USA Hockey Development Camps and was on the U.S. National team in 2017, Rooney didn’t think she would have an opportunity to play in the Olympics until after she finished her career at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
“It didn’t really cross my mind that I would have a chance until last winter when I made the winter camp for the Nationals,” Rooney said. “Then I made the World’s roster and everything happened fast.”
And a few short months later, she was one of three goalies selected to represent the U.S. at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games. And she can hardly wait.
Her teammates who have competed in previous Winter Games are helping her get a sense of what the experience of playing on the Olympic stage will be all about.
“Having those conversations and hearing all their excitement has really got me excited,” Rooney said.
Team USA plays their first game in the preliminary round of the Olympics on Sunday, Feb. 11 against Finland, after that they take on the Olympic Athletes from Russia, Feb. 13; and Canada Feb. 15. Then it’s on to the quarterfinals, and then perhaps, a much-anticipated medal round showdown with Canada.
“Whenever the U.S. plays Canada you can expect each team to bring their best,” Rooney said. “We bring out the best in each other, everyone plays 100 percent, very physical, intense environment game.”
Rooney started playing hockey when she was five and switched to being a goalie during her second year of squirts after finally convincing her dad to let her put the pads on.
“I begged him for two years,” Rooney recalled with a chuckle. “He would shoot on me out on the driveway in my street hockey goalie pads and he never thought I was good enough to play. We always laugh about that now.”
After making the switch to full-time goalie, Rooney played boys hockey through bantams. She then joined the Andover High School girls’ team for two seasons where she led her team to its first state tournament appearance. Rooney decided to finish her prep career with the Huskies boys’ team.
“I made the decision after I already committed to Duluth,” Rooney said. “Just wanted the ultimate challenge and I knew guys high school hockey would give me that.”
And it was also one last chance to be on a team with the guys she played with during his youth hockey days.
“It was basically the same team,” she said. “So that was really cool. I was pretty close with all those guys, they challenged my to be better every day, and I thought I really developed that year.”
And she continues to improve her game by working hard every day in practice to become a better goaltender.
“I like how you are in on every play, the competiveness of it,” she said. “I also like how you can steal a game. I like having that pressure on me. I feel like it’s a good motivator to have.”
And you know Rooney will be ready to go when the puck drops at the Olympic Games.
NOTE: Maddie told me after a recent conversation how she remembered going to the Carroll Goalie School in her early days as a goaltender.