GANGNEUNG, South Korea – As the U.S. coaches prepared for the shootout to settle the score after 80 minutes of intense back-and-forth action in the gold-medal game, players on the U.S. bench looked over at their 20-year-old goaltender and saw a smile peak through her red, white and blue mask. That was when they knew the gold medal was as good as hanging around their necks.
Whether it was youthful naiveté or an overabundance of confidence, Maddie Rooney was reveling in the moment on the biggest stage in the game. And that was all her teammates needed to put their minds at ease.
“Honest to God, I looked up and saw Maddie smiling and said, ‘We’re good.’ She’s so calm, so confident,” said captain Meghan Duggan. “It was a full team effort, but obviously she was fantastic.”
Maddie Rooney came up clutch in goal for Team USA in the gold-medal game
And U.S. head coach Robb Stauber, himself a former puck stopper, didn’t dare step foot in the zone she was in after her 29-save performance through 60 minutes of regulation and another 20-minute overtime.
“If I said something to her I would’ve got in the way,” said Stauber, the first goalie to win the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in college hockey. “I’ve watched her for a long, long time. I say very little to her because she has ice in her veins."
“When your goalie never gets rattled, no matter what circumstances, when she bounces back tall after a goal or two it sends a lot of confidence to the rest of the team.”
And her play throughout the team’s six-month residency, their pre-Olympic tour and here at the Olympics has done exactly that. Her teammates have come to expect nothing less from the Duluth, Minn., native.
“Honestly it didn’t surprise me. I knew that she was going to play unstoppable,” said veteran forward Brianna Decker.
“She doesn’t let anything phase her. She takes whatever is coming at her and it didn’t surprise me in the shootout.”
Stauber told Rooney she would start the gold-medal game before Team USA’s semifinal against Finland, and she rewarded her coach’s confidence with a 14-save shutout.
In total she surrendered five goals in the tournament, with four coming against a potent Canadian offense. She was on her game today, challenging shooters and shutting down second-chance opportunities.
In the six-round shootout, she allowed only two goals by Meghan Agosta on her first attempt and Melodie Daoust, who dusted off a move made popular by Swedish superstar Peter Forsberg against Canada in the 1994 Olympics. As fate would have it, Forsberg was in the building today broadcasting the game for Swedish television.
“It’s important to stay calm as a goalie and focus on the next shot,” she said.
After Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson put the U.S. up by one in the sixth round of the shootout, it was time for Rooney to make one more save. This time Agosta tried to fake a shot and take the puck wide, but Rooney wouldn’t budge. Then, as the puck sat in the crease she reached back to emphatically swipe it away for good measure.
And with that her teammates spilled over the boards and mobbed their netminder.
“I anticipated her to go five hole when she cut across and I just made the stop,” Rooney said. “It was all just a blur after that, just seeing all my teammates coming at me. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Rooney was only 7 months old when Cammi Granato, Karyn Bye and crew celebrated winning the first Olympic gold medal in women’s ice hockey 20 years ago. But today she channeled her inner Sarah Tueting and Sara DeCosta in helping the U.S. return to the top of the medal podium.
“The 1998 team was our role models in this process and to get it done with this group of women was just amazing for our sport and youth in general,” she said.
And while this may be the last hurrah for some of the team’s veterans, the future looks bright for Rooney to return to the U.S. crease four years down the road in China.
“It was definitely a motivator to get those older girls a gold medal,” she said. “And to do it with this amazing group of women means everything.”
|Sun., Feb 11||Finland||Preliminary||W, 3-1||Kwandong Hockey Centre||NBCSN
|Tues., Feb 13||Olympic Athletes From Russia||Preliminary||W, 5-0||Kwandong Hockey Centre||NBCSN
|Thurs., Feb. 15||Canada||Preliminary||L, 1-2||Kwandong Hockey Centre||NBCSN
|Mon., Feb. 19||Finland||Semifinals||W, 5-0||Gangneung Hockey Centre||NBCSN
|Thurs., Feb. 22||Canada||Gold-Medal Game||W, 3-2 (SO)||Gangneung Hockey Centre||NBCSN