It has been quite the year for goaltender Maddie Rooney.
In May 2017, she achieved her then-dream when she was named to the U.S. Women’s National Team. In November, Rooney helped her team secure a 4-2 win over Canada at the Four Nations Cup that allowed the U.S. women to head to the Olympic Games with the confidence they needed. Little did she know that the best was yet to come.
In February, she was the rock that helped lead Team USA to its first gold medal since 1998. Rooney played four out of five games during the team’s gold-medal run at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 and allowed only 1.15 goals against average, which is an impressive stat line for a goaltender at any level.
What sticks out for Americans when they think of Rooney is how she stood tall during Team USA’s shootout win over Canada, the four-time defending Olympic champion, and made the final save that secured gold. Winning in that fashion wasn’t what she anticipated, to say the least.
“Being a goalie, I have the motto of expect the unexpected and be ready for anything,” Rooney explained. “But when I pictured the gold-medal game, a shootout wasn’t the first thing that came to mind.”
Her performance in that Feb. 22 game was so impressive that a fan changed Rooney’s position on her Wikipedia page from “goaltender” to “Secretary of Defense.” After returning from the Games, she received a letter from U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, addressing her as “Madam Secretary Maddie.”
While the shootout and game-winning save were remarkable, what happened next was the most memorable part for Rooney.
“Standing with my teammates with gold around our necks and singing the national anthem was the proudest moment of my life,” she said.
The 2018 U.S. Olympic Women's Ice Hockey Team celebrates after defeating Canada in the women's gold medal game in the Winter Olympic Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 22, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.
But Rooney’s honors don’t stop there. This week, she accepted the 2018 Bob Allen Women’s Player of the Year Award from USA Hockey. She joins an exclusive list filled by some of her role models as well as her teammates.
Rooney, at only 20 years old, is just taking it all in.
“A little over a year ago, I would never imagine being up on this stage, accepting this award and having done the things we were so fortunate to do,” she said. “To have my play be recognized like this means so much to me. It’s such a motivator to move forward in my game.”
While Rooney describes being humbled by the experience, the honor doesn’t come as much of a surprise for women’s team general manager Reagan Carey.
“She loves to play, loves to compete, and she’s confident in herself,” Carey said. “Our team, her teammates just feed off that.”
Maddie Rooney gives her acceptance speech for the Bob Allen Women’s Player of the Year Award at the USA Hockey Night of Tribute on June 6, 2018 in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Part of that confidence is shown through Rooney’s signature smile; it is one she maintained throughout the entire Games, on and off the ice. “She’s always smiling,” Carey said. “She brings that focus, and she can smile and enjoy the whole experience.”
When introducing Rooney for her award, Carey read off descriptions Rooney’s teammates submitted characterizing their goaltender. They almost appear contradictory, which is part of what makes Rooney so special. They describe her as calm, driven, goofy. Her ability to smile through everything received hearty acknowledgements. Above all else, the depictions explain how Rooney is inspiring.
“Maddie is the youngest player I’ve ever seen to have the presence of playing like a 10-year veteran,” Carey read via a submission from Amanda Kessel. “She’s incredible, fearless and a talent beyond words.”
Since the Games, the recognition for USA Hockey and for Rooney specifically has been tremendous. The team traveled the country for ceremonial puck drops and first pitches at hockey and baseball games spanning the country, an appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and an opportunity to ring the Opening Bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Rooney’s hometown of Andover, Minnesota, even threw her a parade.
“The parade was really special, sharing it with my friends and family and everything,” Rooney said. “But I think meeting Jimmy Fallon has been my favorite part. He was super genuine. I was just kind of in awe the whole time.”
The attention during the Games and beyond has not only been a memorable perk for Rooney and her teammates, but it’s exciting for the sport of hockey as well as women’s athletics as a whole.
“What’s exciting is to see not only little girls around the rink, but to see little boys pounding on the glass for these female athletes,” Carey said. “The team’s success transcends girls’ and women’s sports.”
Throughout all of the focus and honors, Rooney stays modest. The achievements still haven’t sunk in as her new way of life – as a 20-year-old Olympian with a gold-medal performance and a women’s player of the year award under her belt.
“This tops off what I like to call my temporary fantasy life for these past few months,” she said in her acceptance speech.
The implications from Rooney’s performance as well as her demeanor on and off the ice are very real for USA Hockey. They are looking ahead at Rooney and her generation as a great indicator of success for years to come for the organization.
“We have so many great leaders and veterans in our program who do a great job promoting the game and exemplifying the character and culture of our programs, but it’s really exciting to see a younger generation of that,” Carey said. “Being able to see that next generation, the new energy, it’s awesome to feel confident in the future of our program with people like that.”
Next, Rooney will begin to ramp up her training once again. In August, she’ll return to school at the University of Minnesota Duluth following a year hiatus she took for the Olympic season. USA Hockey will keep in contact with her but managing expectations from the national team while working hard for her college team will be her responsibility.
So, essentially, Rooney will return to regular college problems. She’ll manage 8 a.m. lectures and navigate homework assignments. While this has been quite the year for her, at the end of the day, Rooney’s a 20-year-old college student. And this past year was all just her fantasy life. Right?