2020 Top 25 Under 25 | No. 17, 18: Sophie Shirley, Maddie Rooney
Two WCHA players are next up on our list.
No. 17 | Sophie Shirley
Let’s be honest, we were all expecting big things out of Sophie Shirley after she delayed her freshman season of NCAA hockey to play a year in the CWHL. In 2019-20, she delivered in a big way. Shirley has climbed the charts four spots from finishing 21st in last year’s T25 U25 after finishing fifth in the nation in scoring in her sophomore season in 2019-20 with 61 points in 36 games.
Shirley demanded our collective attention by winning back-to-back silver medals with Team Canada at the IIHF U18 Women’s World Championships in 2016 and 2017. In the latter of those two tournaments, Shirley led Team Canada in scoring with two goals and four assists in five games. The following year, she went pro with the Calgary Inferno and earned Rookie of the Year honors for piling up 19 points in 26 games.
In her freshman season with the Badgers in 2018-19, Shirley was the WCHA’s Rookie of the Year and was nearly a point-per-game player. She scored 20 goals in 41 games to finish third on the team in goals as a freshman. In 2019-20, she truly established herself as one of the top young goal-scorers on the planet. Shirley finished third in the nation and first on the Badgers with 29 goals in 36 games — 23 of which were scored at evens.
The future looks bright for the big forward with sweet hands from Saskatchewan at the collegiate level and beyond. If she stays healthy, it’s a foregone conclusion that she will have an outstanding college career with the Badgers. The big question for Shirley is when and if she will get the call up to Canada’s senior team. Given how much competition she has for a roster spot, it’s in Shirley’s best interest to get her foot in the door sooner rather than later.
Her big frame, finishing ability, and high-end speed all set her apart from the pack. Shirley has the ability to flick a switch and become a runaway train who can crash the net and finish in tight. It would be shocking if she wasn’t on Team Canada in the very near future.
Is This Ranking Too High or Too Low?
This is a tough one. Shirley is undoubtedly one of the most exciting young players in the game, but she likely didn’t crack the Top-15 of our T25 U25 because she’s yet to appear on Team Canada’s senior team. With that being said, she likely deserves to be a few spots higher because of her goal-scoring prowess alone. She probably lost points for some voters because of her teammates (and linemates) in Wisconsin and potentially because of her high shooting percentage. But, make no mistake, Shirley is the real deal.
No. 18 | Maddie Rooney
In her third year on the list, Rooney comes in at her lowest rank yet but after the year she had, that isn’t entirely unsurprising. It’s not to say that she wasn’t good or even above average, but nowhere near her full potential that she reached during that fateful Olympic tournament and sophomore season at UMD.
Do I even have to say it? I think we all know Rooney will forever cement herself as an integral part of the 2018 USA Olympic team that finally took home gold against Canada, and held her own all the way to a shootout when she was just 20 years old. Aside from that, she also has two World Championship gold medals, the 2018 Bob Allen Women’s Player of the Year Award, and some fantastic statistics as a Minnesota Duluth Bulldog.
Rooney signed with the PWHPA earlier this offseason so it seems for now that is where her professional career will take her. As always, there is a ton of goalie talent and not enough places to put all of them but I think she has already proven she can handle herself with the best of the best, and should shine given the right opportunities. Any roster she ends up on will feel more relaxed with her in the crease. She is also taking a goalie/defense coaching job at Centennial High School alongside her former youth hockey coach, Sean Molin.
Is This Ranking Too High or Too Low?
I think it’s a good spot for Rooney, maybe slightly too low. She’s coming off a 16-win NCAA senior season that wasn’t groundbreaking compared to her earlier accomplishments but was still pretty good. That, and her one loss this year for the national team leaves a lot up for interpretation in the future, but I don’t think that’s any scarier to her than Poulin barreling towards her in a shootout...and we all know what she did with that.