If you’ve followed Haley Skarupa at any point in her career, you know she loves hockey and she loves her hometown. In the past several months, she’s celebrated her Olympic gold medal and her hometown NHL team’s Stanley Cup win in the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia (DMV) area. To boot, she was part of the Washington Capitals’ broadcast team throughout the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals.
This month, it was announced the Rockville, Md., native will return to the Boston Pride for the 2018-19 season.
If at first you don’t succeed ...
Before claiming 2018 as her own, Skarupa found herself a bit lost. After winning gold with Team USA at the 2017 Women’s World Championships, Skarupa was invited to the April 2017 Selection Camp. However, she did not make the original 23-player residency roster in May. Skarupa found herself out of hockey completely. She remained occupied by walking dogs for work, while also looking for a more permanent job. For a time, she was certain her hockey career was over.
Eventually, Skarupa responded to inquiries about returning to the NWHL. She signed with the Boston Pride just weeks before the start of the 2017-18 season. The Boston College alum competed with the Connecticut Whale her rookie season, but joined the Pride for what would be her second year of professional hockey.
Prior to starting the season, Skarupa got the call from USA Hockey. “I hadn’t started the professional season yet with the Boston Pride when they called me,” Skarupa told The Ice Garden last month. “I was brought back [in] — they said it would be, like three weeks or so because they had injuries or whatever it was — and then I would go back to playing with the Boston Pride. That’s when they told me to stay ready because anything could happen.”
Skarupa played seven games with the Pride before heading to USA Hockey residency. Competing again with the Pride boosted her confidence upon returning to the national team. “To be able to go back to playing with the Pride and keep playing competitively and training again — that really helped me.” After nearly five months away from the ice, the NWHL helped jumpstart her instincts since being released ahead of residency.
While thankful for the opportunity to return, Skarupa admitted it was a tough situation to be in, “It was a roller coaster of emotions ... to stay even-keeled mentally was tough at times. But [I knew] that I had my teammates, on both the Olympic team and the Boston Pride; they were always there for me. And my parents, they were always — they were great [and] kept perspective ... that this is a very unique opportunity and that I should most definitely make the most of it. And that’s kind of what kept me going every single day.”
Skarupa officially returned to residency just after the Thanksgiving break. Despite her time with the Boston Pride, she still felt a step behind everyone else. However, her support system was unwavering, including the players in training camp. “Once I got back, everyone was so welcoming. You know, I’ve known a lot those teammates for a long time. So it kind of felt like I never left.” Skarupa decided to focus on the positives of the situation, as opposed to the yo-yo-like circumstances of her Olympic tryout. “I was just like, ‘I can’t think about any disadvantage I might have. I need to make the most of this every single day and see what happens.’”
Skarupa made the most of her shot and remained with the team for the duration of the camp before being named to the 2018 Olympic roster on Jan. 1.
Life like it’s golden
Flash forward to the 2018 Winter Games, the first for Skarupa. The fact that she was an Olympian really hit her during the Opening Ceremonies, and again during the warmups for her first game of the biggest tournament of her career. “My first game was like, ‘We’re at the Olympics right now, and I’m competing in the Olympics.’ That’s when it kind of hit me.”
In the gold medal game, the United States rallied back from a 2-1 deficit at the start of the third period to force overtime. After a six-round shootout, Maddie Rooney shut the door on Meghan Agosta and Team Canada to bring home the second Olympic gold in the history of the US Women’s National Team.
Upon returning home, Skarupa and her teammates met Venus and Serena Williams, visited the Ellen DeGeneres Show, and — most recently — won the 2018 ESPY for Best Game. However, for Skarupa the highlights of the victory tour all involved her hometown. She was honored by her local city council, threw out the first pitch at a Baltimore Orioles game, and gave the commencement address at her high school.
“Coming back to Wootton and speaking to all of you is, by far, what I was looking forward to the most,” the gold medalist told the Class of 2018. “Because this is home, and this is where it all begins.”
In the booth
Some time while parading her new gold medal across the US, Skarupa found time to join the NBC Sports Washington broadcast team throughout the 2018 NHL playoffs. The lifelong Capitals fan had a front row seat to the first Washington Stanley Cup championship. She was one of several returning gold medalists to grace the NHL airwaves, including 1998 gold medalist A.J. Mleczko.
“Yeah, that also caught me by surprise,” she told The Ice Garden of her burgeoning broadcast career. “One of the producers reached out to me and asked if I wanted to talk about my [Olympic] experience in their studio. It was early in the playoffs and I obviously was like, ‘Of course!’”
In the dark days after being cut from the National Team, Skarupa worked in production in Boston. However, she never thought about being in front of the camera until NBC suggested she try. “I would never have thought about broadcasting. I love, like, the video production side of it and the behind-the-scenes part of it. But I had never really done or considered broadcasting. I don’t know why, but the more I did it the more I [liked it].”
Her time with NBC Sports Washington offered a front row seat to the Washington Capitals championship parade. “We had these passes, so I got to just sit there and just enjoy it. And then I was able to hold the Stanley Cup after,” said Skarupa, who brought her gold medal along, naturally.
She described holding the Stanley Cup as an appropriate cap to her whirlwind year. “It was so cool to see [Alexander] Ovechkin raise the Stanley Cup, because I started playing hockey when he was drafted. I’ve followed his career ... it just all came so full circle and it just [made my] year.”
Back in Boston
So, will we see Skarupa on a broadcast anytime soon? Well, yes!
This fall, she will return to the Boston Pride as a skater, not an analyst. The Pride struggled to find their stride last season, going 4-8-4, and missed the Isobel Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.
To date, Skarupa is the only Olympian to sign with the Pride. Six other Olympians have also signed to play in the NWHL for the 2018-19 season. Former Pride members Brianna Decker, Kasey Bellamy, and Hilary Knight will play in the CWHL next season.
However things shake out for the Pride, I think it’s safe to say we should never count Skarupa out. In the last year, she found a way back to her ultimate dream and then some. Who’s to say hoisting the Isobel Cup isn’t next?