Maddie Rooney had faced Canada's Meghan Agosta earlier in Team USA's gold medal shootout against their arch rivals, in Pyeongchang on Thursday. One of the most accomplished women's players in the world, Agosta scored with ease.
This time for Rooney, it wasn't just about stopping Agosta's shot, but knowing that she was one save away from winning a championship for her country.
"I just took each player one at a time. When it came down to one shooter to win it, I just said 'it's one more save, and then it's a gold medal,'" said Rooney, 20.
Agosta skated in. She drew the puck back, and then made a move, trying to draw open Rooney's pads. She didn't budge. Rooney made the save and then reached back to swipe the puck away from her crease and completely out of danger. She leapt in the air, hurled her stick and ran on her skates to be mobbed by her teammates.
She made one more save, and it was the gold medal for Team USA.
U.S. coach Robb Stauber, who played 62 games in the NHL with the Los Angeles Kings and Buffalo Sabres, told Rooney she would start the gold medal game prior to their semifinal against Finland, against whom Rooney had a 14-save shutout. Not only for her resiliency, but because her analytical mind was made for pressure situations like an overtime shootout.
"She trusts that hockey IQ, and she's willing to figure things out on her own. That's really rare," he told the Star Tribune last December. "She understands the game, and she understands shooters. To be able to read the body language, read the stick, read the shot and then make a decision, there's no substitute for how valuable that is."
She began honing those skills at nine years old, when she caught the goaltending bug growing up in Andover, Minn. Rooney played on boys teams until she reached Andover High School, where she played two seasons with the girls team. But Rooney felt that in order to be ready to play for the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where she committed, it was imperative to suit up against male players again as a senior. Rooney had a 2.84 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage in 25 games with the Andover High School boys' team.
She starred in college, especially in her 2016-17 season when Rooney stopped the second-most saves in a single season with 1,013 in 37 games and had the fourth-highest save percentage in school history at .942. (Ironically, Laura Schuler, Minnesota-Duluth's chief recruiter at the time, coached Team Canada in Pyeongchang.)
Rooney joined the U.S. national team in 2017, and that's when her clashes with Canada began. Before the Olympics, Rooney faced Canada five times and won three times. Her two losses? They came in overtime.
One of those losses was at the "The Time Is Now Tour" between USA and Canada in St. Paul in Dec. 2017. The overtime game winner was scored by Brianne Jenner. It was assisted on by Rebecca Johnston. "I think [we had] some of those chances that we just couldn't capitalize on," Rooney said after the game, "but we'll get them next time."
Those words proved prophetic. Jenner, whose goal defeated her? Rooney made a diving stick save in the gold medal game to rob her. Johnston, who assisted on that goal? Rooney made an incredible save on her in overtime, on a shot where Johnston began celebrating a Canadian win prematurely.
She got them next time.
We did it �� pic.twitter.com/YI6B2AZyle
- Maddie Rooney (@maddie_rooney35) February 22, 2018
She also got Marie-Philip Poulin, the Canadian hockey legend who had the game-winning goals in Canada's two previous gold medal wins over the Americans, and had beaten her earlier in the game. Rooney positioned herself well, and stoned Poulin in the shootout, shocking the crowd. And she got Agosta; minutes later, the U.S. was getting its gold medals.
"[The key was] just to stay calm. Whatever happens, happens. Focus on your game. If they score, bounce back," said Rooney.
The Americans bounced back from their preliminary loss to their arch rivals to win their first gold medal since women's hockey was introduced in the Games in 1998. In doing so, the Olympic spotlight swung to focus on Maddie Rooney, as she became the latest overnight sensation created by this singular event.
The U.S. men's team failed to reach the medal round. The National Hockey League's stars are sitting Pyeongchang out. This gold medal victory by the U.S. has the full, unfettered attention of the sports world, and Maddie Rooney rightfully commands much of it.
"My team made it easy for me back there," she said, a gold medal hanging around her neck.
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