Team Sportswoman of the Year was the latest honor for U.S. backstop
Maddie Rooney admits her life has most certainly changed after backstopping the U.S. Olympic Women’s Hockey Team to a gold medal during the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Being named the Team Sportswoman of the Year on Oct. 17 at the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Annual Salute to Women in Sports is the latest in a long list of awards and accomplishments since claiming gold eight months earlier.
But, despite her newfound celebrity and recognition, she still carries the same easy-going, down-to-earth mindset.
“I want to keep developing my game, but away from the ice, I definitely didn’t expect to be on shows like ‘Ellen’ and ‘Jimmy Fallon,’” Rooney said. “Obviously, I have to change my goals for myself, but it has definitely given me a new perspective on things.”
Currently, Rooney is focused on her college season at the University of Minnesota-Duluth in addition to the upcoming Four Nations Cup tournament in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. But the last year was a whirlwind of emotions for the 21-year-old from Andover, Minnesota.
“Just focusing on hockey for eight months was really good for my development,” Rooney said. “I learned so much on and off the ice, being around such a wonderful group of women. It allowed me to develop my mental, physical and hockey skills. Winning in the Olympics was an indescribable moment and everything that came after with the media tour and seeing all the support around me was humbling and inspiring.”
It all started in May 2017 when Rooney was named to the team, which was centralized in Wesley Chapel, Florida, for six months prior to the Olympics.
“Obviously, I was overjoyed and excited to be named to the team because it was a dream of mine,” Rooney said. “Not only to compete for a gold medal, but also just to give myself the ultimate challenge and develop my game to the highest level.”
Rooney reached the highest level in February during the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. She backstopped the U.S. Women’s National Team to arguably the greatest game in U.S. women’s hockey history with 29 saves, including stops on Canada’s last two shooters to help the U.S. win its first Olympic gold medal in women’s hockey since 1998.
“When I pictured the gold-medal game before, I have to be honest, I don’t think I imagined it going into a shootout,” Rooney said. “But I had full confidence in my teammates and I know they had confidence in me to do my job. Going into a shootout, you have to expect the unexpected, so I took it one shooter at a time and ended up coming out on top.”
Going through the post-game celebration, where Rooney received her gold medal, was a different story.
“I still have trouble describing the moment to this day, when we were standing in line with the whole team and the medals around our neck,” Rooney said. “It really hit me when I was able to bring my medal home and share it with my family. It was something I always dreamed about my whole life and for it to actually come true, I really don’t know how to describe it.”
Rooney and her teammates made an appearance on “Ellen” and “Jimmy Fallon,” met the U.S. women’s soccer team and also rung the bell at the New York Stock Exchange, among other highlights. Rooney received a letter of congratulations from U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, won USA Hockey’s Bob Allen Women’s Player of the Year award and the team visited the White House during a trip to Washington, D.C.
“The media tour was really awesome to be part of to go and experience that with the whole team,” Rooney said. “‘Ellen’ and ‘Jimmy Fallon’ were probably my favorite parts of the media tour and something I never thought I would be able to do. Winning the awards that I won, I was just honored to be recognized and nominated against such amazing athletes. To win meant so much to me. Also, I never thought I would be going to the ESPYs, so it was really cool to get a team award there.”
The standout moment for Rooney came when her hometown of Andover threw her a parade and celebrated the historic accomplishment. She also enjoyed sharing her Olympic gold medal with youth hockey players and growing the game during various on-ice clinics and meet-and-greet opportunities.
“We were honored at NHL games and we were able to do certain youth clinics and for kids to look up to us as role models was very humbling to me,” Rooney said. “Going out in communities and just spending time and sharing my medal with kids has definitely been a special moment that I’ll remember.”
It’s also an honor that will be celebrated for centuries to come. This year’s team accomplished the feat 20 years after the U.S. women’s Olympic hockey team captured the country’s first gold medal in women’s hockey in 1998.
“The ’98 team was our role models, and I hope our team sets a base for us to be role models to a younger generation,” Rooney said. “It was special to be part of an elite group of Olympians. I know the whole team is honored. It’s going to be a lifelong celebration no matter what events we go to or whatever may come in the future.”