UMD women's hockey: Winning gold matured Maddie Rooney, who has her sights set on another medal with Team USA in 2022
Since backstopping the United States to gold in the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, former Bulldogs goaltender Maddie Rooney has graduated from college and become a homeowner. She's an entrepreneur and a photographer away from the ice, and has gotten into coaching at the high school and college levels. But she's still Maddie Rooney, her teammates say.
Minnesota Duluth’s Maddie Rooney and Minnesota’s Kelly Pannek were roommates four years ago when the U.S. Women’s National Team was centralized in Tampa, Florida, ahead of the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Both still college students at the time, Pannek returned from Tampa that winter with some fun stories about her quirky WCHA rival, roommate, teammate and friend.
“In 2017 during that build up to 2018, it was like, ‘How am I supposed to pack for this trip?’” Pannek said of Rooney four years ago. “There’s just so many funny little stories. She brought a bike to Florida and just these crazy things. Now she just finished a house and is moving into a house.”
Becoming a homeowner — and graduating from the University of Minnesota Duluth in 2019 after two more seasons of backstopping the Bulldogs — is one of the many milestones Rooney has hit in life since becoming an Olympic gold medalist.
Listen: Maddie Rooney discusses on and off-ice growth ahead of 2022 Olympics https://t.co/xtJ5fHf2bJ— The Rink Live (@TheRinkLive) December 22, 2021
Away from the ice, she’s become an entrepreneur, starting a clothing line with her boyfriend, Carson. That venture led to a hobby in photography . Back at the rink, Rooney is helping coach the Centennial High School varsity girls hockey team and just this year she began working as a volunteer goaltending consultant for the UMD women’s hockey program.
Since being thrust into the spotlight as a 20-year-old following her shootout save on Canada’s Meghan Agosta, Rooney said she’s matured a lot over the last four years both on the ice and off it as she embarks on another quest for gold with Team USA at the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.
“After 2018, we … were fortunate enough to be in that whirlwind of media and I went from the person who was very scared of public speaking, to thrown into being the speaker on Jimmy Fallon and spokesperson at a lot of these events,” Rooney said Sunday following a Team USA practice at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. “I was forced to grow up a little bit and figure my stuff out. I definitely matured on the ice as well. I’ve seen my game grow in so many different ways and just be more comfortable and confident out there.”
Her teammates can attest to that maturity as well — they all have matured, Pannek said — but their goalie’s personality remains the same.
“I feel like she’s really taken ownership of everything that was put in front of her from then and just ran with it. The best part is she is still her fun, quirky, funny, goofy self,” Pannek said. “I feel like any opportunity that gets thrown at her, she’s like, ‘Let’s try it, I’ll make it work, I’ll figure it out.’”
Four years ago during centralization in Tampa, Rooney was a relatively unknown goalie on the world stage, having just completed her sophomore season at Minnesota Duluth. She had played just a single game for the national team at that point — a 14-save shutout in a 7-0 preliminary round win over Russia at the 2017 Women’s World Championship in Plymouth, Michigan.
She arrived in Blaine this fall for the residency program at the Super Rink a household name along with the likes of Kendall Coyne Schofield, Brianna Decker, Amanda Kessel and Hilary Knight.
Rooney said Sunday that while she feels pressure as Team USA’s returning starter and an Olympic hero from 2018, it’s not to the extent of what she felt arriving back on the UMD campus in the fall of 2018 for her junior season as the Bulldogs.
That was a humbling experience, Rooney said. In addition to being named WCHA Preseason Player of the Year despite being out of the league for an entire season, she was being asked for autographs around campus and in the community. When spotted by a youth hockey team in the arena before or after a game, high-pitched screams — like what you might hear for Rooney’s favorite singer, Justin Bieber — would erupt from her newfound fans.
UMD went 15-16-4 in 2018-19 and missed the NCAA tournament for a second season in a row. Rooney was 12-15-4 as the starter with a .919 save percentage, 2.81 goals against average and a single shutout.
She didn’t get the national championship she sought, but she did learn how to handle the pressure that came from being an Olympic gold medalist.
“I dealt with that pressure, I felt the heat of it in my junior year of college, coming back to Duluth and going through those struggles,” said Rooney, who bounced back in 2019-20 to finish her college career as UMD’s all-time leader in saves, games played and minutes played. “It definitely led me to where I am today and I know what I need to do to overcome those doubts, or mental letdowns, I guess you can call them. Right now, I'm in a good spot and I'm going to use that pressure more towards motivation and energy leading into this next Olympics.”
Rooney was one of five gold medalists back in the NCAA in 2018-19 along with Pannek and a trio from Boston College — Cayle Barnes, Megan Keller and Kali Flanagan. All but Flanagan are back with Team USA this time around.
While she didn’t enjoy the same celebrity status as Rooney did that year, Pannek said 2018-19 was a tough season for all the returning gold medalists. It was harder than they expected, but taught them all how hard you have to work to stay at the top, she said.
It’s a lesson they take into this year’s quest for gold in Beijing.
“You walk into a room, especially if you’re Maddie Rooney, you walk into a room full of young hockey players and they all start freaking out. But you also know that when you get on the ice, it doesn’t matter,” Pannek said.
“That whole entire year afterwards was this great thing happened. I want to be really proud and celebrate it and be honored to be part of all that, but I also got to get back to work.”
Sweet home Minnesota
In addition to being a returning Olympic starter and household name, Rooney said the leadup to the 2022 Winter Games has felt different in many ways compared to the leadup to 2018. It helps having been around the national team the last four years, as she’s much more comfortable now with her teammates.
Rooney said she’s also a bigger fan of the location, and not just because she missed experiencing the various seasons four years ago in Florida.
A native of Andover, Minnesota, Rooney said she feels right at home — literally. She spent a lot of time playing at the Super Rink in Blaine growing up, and because players can choose their own housing this time around, Rooney is able to remain at home.
That’s created a better life-work balance, Rooney said. It’s allowed her to get away from team USA, and even hockey, when she needs to.
“It’s just overall a totally different experience, just with the team winning that last Olympics,” said Rooney, whose shootout save in Pyeongchang gave the U.S. its first Olympic gold in 20 years. “We’re really motivated and excited to get to this next Olympics and bring back gold.”
Since missing the 2021 Women’s World Championship — where the U.S. finished second to Canada — due to an injury suffered the day before the team departed for Alberta, Rooney has appeared in just a single game against Canada during the Rivalry Series and My Why Tour. In her first start against Canada since 2019, Rooney pitched a 26-save shutout to give the U.S. the win on Nov. 23 in Ottawa.
Rooney was due to make another start for Team USA on Monday against Canada at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, but that game was canceled six hours prior to puck drop due to COVID-19 concerns.
Teammates like Decker — a two-time Olympic medalist out of Wisconsin who in 2020 served as an assistant coach under UMD’s Maura Crowell at the U18 Women’s World Championship — said the U.S. remains as confident in Rooney as they were back in 2018.
“You look at performance back from 2018, she was playing like she was around for 10 years before that, and she still does when she steps on the ice at practice,” said Decker. “She expects a lot of herself and I just appreciate how hard she works, how hard she battles every single practice. I think every time she goes out there, we have confidence in her and we love playing in front of her.”
In place of Rooney, former Lindenwood goaltender Nicole Hensley (1-2 record, .887 save percentage, 2.60 goals against average) has made three starts thus far against Canada while former Wisconsin goalie Alex Cavallini (0-2, .909, 1.94) has made two starts. Both got starts earlier this month in St. Louis.
While already down to 23 players — the maximum allowed for the Olympics — USA Hockey will officially announce the 2022 Olympic Team during the second intermission of the 2022 Winter Classic at Target Field in Minneapolis on New Year’s Day. The U.S. is then scheduled to play two more Rivalry Series games against Canada on Jan. 3 and 6 in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta.
U.S. head coach Joel Johnson — the former Gophers assistant coach and current head coach at St. Thomas — said he likes the confidence of his goalie group heading to Beijing, and that when everyone is playing their best, they can beat anyone.
“Anything can happen, so we feel really lucky as a group that no matter who plays in between the pipes, we are confident as a coaching staff and the players are confident in them,” Johnson said. “We believe in each other and that's a nice feeling to have.”