When Maddie Rooney headed to the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, she was a relatively unknown 20-year-old hockey goalie. By the time the Winter Games ended, the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD) Bulldogs star had become a household name.
Rooney made the iconic, deciding save in the gold-medal shootout versus four-time defending champion Canada. It came against 2010 Olympic MVP Meghan Agosta. It was the first Olympic women’s hockey gold medal for America since the inaugural 1998 tournament in Nagano, Japan.
This Andover, Minnesota native is just getting started. Rooney was honored as WSF’s Team Sportswoman of the Year at the 39th Annual Salute to Women in Sports awards gala on October 17 in New York. We caught up with her at the 2018 Four Nations Cup in Saskatoon, Canada, where the U.S. earned its fourth straight title with a 5-2 win over the host Canadians on November 10.
WSF: What did it mean to receive the Team Sportswoman of the Year Award from the Women’s Sports Foundation?
Maddie: Just to be nominated for that meant so much to me. I was up against so many incredible athletes, and to go to the event was a super-humbling experience, with all those elite athletes coming together. We worked with young girls there the day before the event. To hear Billie Jean King speak both early in the day and at the event, it was so cool to be part of.
WSF: How has the Olympic gold medal changed your life?
Maddie: I guess I never really saw myself being on Jimmy Fallon or Ellen or all those crazy things we experienced! But again, it’s just been so humbling. Now, with the start of a new Olympic quadrennial, it’s about getting focused on the team again.
WSF: WSF strongly advocates for scholarships for female athletes. How has your UMD scholarship affected your ability to excel?
Maddie: Getting a scholarship has changed my life and given me the opportunity to play for Team USA. It’s given me so many life lessons, like time management and communication, that I can carry with me throughout my life, not just in the game of hockey, but outside as well.
WSF: What can you say about the importance of girls participating in sports for health, confidence, and leadership ability?
Maddie: When I was young, I participated in many different sports. That was huge for me to develop those skills and get involved with the community. I met some of my best friends. I think that’s just part of the development. It helps you be the best version of yourself.
WSF: Team USA has other top-notch goalies, including Alex Rigsby, who helped the U.S. win the 2015 and 2016 World Championship gold medal games, and Nicole Hensley, who won the 2017 World Championship final. What kind of relationship do you have with them?
Maddie: It’s all based on support of each other, and you’ve got to have fun with each other. You obviously compete too, but we’re all working for the same goal.
It’s given me so many life lessons, like time management and communication, that I can carry with me throughout my life, not just in the game of hockey, but outside as well.
WSF: In 2017, your national team famously announced it would boycott the Women’s Worlds in Plymouth, Michigan unless it received equitable treatment from USA Hockey. Ultimately, a deal was struck. What was that like?
Maddie: I was new to the team, and being told that we were looking at sitting out the tournament wasn’t ideal. But it was really powerful that we all stood together. I was proud to be part of that team. What we accomplished set a baseline for women’s hockey and women’s sports in general.
WSF: How optimistic are you that women’s hockey players will soon get the opportunity to earn a living in a unified top pro league?
Maddie: I think it’s really going to develop within the next two years, and I’m excited to see what opportunities I have once I graduate. It’s great to see how far it’s come.
Lucas Aykroyd is a member of the WSF Digital Contributor Team. His work has appeared in publications that include the New York Times.