Bulldog of the Month: Maddie Rooney

Rooney shows off her gold medal is South Korea. Photo courtesy of Maddie Rooney

Rooney shows off her gold medal is South Korea. Photo courtesy of Maddie Rooney

The past year for UMD women’s hockey goalie Maddie Rooney can only be described as special and hectic. Feb. 22, 2019, is the one-year anniversary of the US women’s hockey defeating Canada in a shootout to secure the gold medal.

“I always say that I’ve peaked at 20 years old,” Rooney said.

Rooney got her start in hockey at the age of four after her parents, Michael and Jayne, signed her up for softball and soccer as well.

“Hockey eventually emerged as my favorite sport,” Rooney said. “I figured out that is what I wanted to pursue.”

Rooney has now become a celebrity for playing goalie, but it did not start out like that. She was a forward for her first five years as a player. Rooney wanted to be a goalie, but her dad would not allow it due to the equipment being too expensive. According to Rooney, her dad believed that she simply wouldn’t be a good goalie. At 10, she tried out for goalie at a practice and she has stuck with it ever since.

Growing up, Rooney played boys youth hockey until her sophomore year of high school. She played two years of girls hockey before transferring to the boys varsity team her senior year.

“I wanted to give myself the ultimate challenge before college and that was my opportunity,” Rooney said.

For her, it wasn’t weird to play on the boys varsity team because she grew up with those same players during youth hockey, so it was like going back to how it was before.

When someone earns the accolades that Rooney has, getting recruited by the top schools in the country to come play for them becomes frequent. For Rooney, the recruiting process came down to two schools, Twin Cities or Duluth.

“I ended up committing to Duluth because I was very familiar with it,” Rooney said. “I liked the coaching staff and just the overall hockey community.”

What also helped with her decision to attend UMD is Rooney’s family cabin, located 30 minutes outside Duluth. Growing up she would always come through Duluth to go to the cabin, so committing to UMD felt like the right decision to make.

2017 would continue to be a big year for Rooney as it was her first experience on a national stage at the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) National Championships.

Rooney’s first time with the National Team started off with a boycott. The women’s teams were fighting for equal pay, which they won and now receive more in salaries and bonuses for their contributions to the team.

“I was the youngest one on the team,” Rooney said. “I got a call that I would be boycotting the world championships. It was an uncomfortable situation because I was young and new on the team. It was a hard experience. But it was awesome to stick with the girls and have trust in one another, and we won.”

The U.S. would win it’s eighth IIHF National Championship with an undefeated run in the tournament and defeating Canada 3-2 in the gold medal game.

Rooney was named to the Olympic team later in May and spent a fair amount of time in the summer doing on and off ice training. That August, she moved down to Tampa, Florida, to practice with the team where they trained for six months leading up to the Olympics.

Then came the day to hop on a plane and take a 15 hour flight to an inclement South Korea.

“My first memory was getting off the plane and going through and getting our Olympic clothes and gear,” Rooney said. “Then going to the Opening Ceremony was one of my favorite things of the Olympics. Just to walk arm-in-arm with all those elite athletes was special.”

In South Korea, the team would practice in the morning, the facility was only a 10 minute drive away from the Olympic Village. The team would do on and off ice drills just to stay loose. There was a lot of downtime, so many of the girls would explore the village or just hangout.

“South Korea was very cold, so it was hard to be outside all the time,” Rooney said.

Rooney met other athletes while at the Olympic Village, but her favorite athlete she met was three-time olympic gold medalist, Shaun White.

“He was a super cool and humble guy,” Rooney said. “He took the time to talk to me a bit and it was cool to meet him.”

Games were at noon in Korean time, which is the opposite in the U.S., but game days were an all day affair. The team would wake up early to head to the rink and “get loose” before having some downtime and then would return to the rink later for the game.

“The games were the highest level of hockey I’ve ever played in,” Rooney said. “They were really fun.”

Rooney, and the U.S. team, made it to the gold medal game against Canada. Rooney said that she thinks the WCHA is the toughest division in women’s college hockey and that the two years of playing in the WCHA has given her the experience to stay calm in high-level moments.

“I never imagined that it would come down to a shootout,” Rooney said. “I love shootouts, so I was really excited.”

Rooney celebrates winning gold after stopping Canada in a shootout. Photo courtesy of Maddie Rooney

Rooney celebrates winning gold after stopping Canada in a shootout. Photo courtesy of Maddie Rooney

On the sixth round of shootouts, Rooney blocked Canada’s shot, gold medal Olympic champions.

“I still can’t really describe the in-the-moment when I did receive the gold medal,” Rooney said. “It was all a blur from the shootout on, but it’s been crazy to see all the support that our team got.”

After experiencing the pinnacle of athletic success and becoming famous in the process, Rooney eventually had to return to Duluth. When she first arrived back on campus, for the first month the gold medal was all everyone would talk about with her. The extra attention has not bothered Rooney, but now she said that it all blown over and everything is back to being relatively normal. She is still Maddie Rooney, olympic gold medalist after all.

“I think we’ve proven to the country what we’re capable of,” Rooney said of big wins over Minnesota and a sweep of Ohio State. “I think we’re going to make some noise in the playoffs. I think people are underestimating our ability.”

Women’s head coach Maura Crowell said that Rooney is the leader of the women’s hockey team.

“[Confidence] starts from the net out,” Crowell said. “The team is confident in [Rooney]. She allows the team to breath and take chances on the ice.”

When Rooney is not on a rink, you can find her outdoors which is why she loves Duluth so much. Otherwise, she is big into arts and crafts, nothing too crazy just the sets that you can find at a Hobby Lobby.

Rooney admits that she is not certain of where her hockey career will take her, she is a business marketing major and wants a job in sports marketing, but she wants to ride it out for as long as she can. Rooney is also aware that she has seen and done things that people will never get to ever experience.

“Winning the gold medal is definitely an experience I’ll never forget,” Rooney said. “It was all of our dreams since we were young kids, so playing in that game was the climax of my hockey career and my life so far.”