Maddie Rooney has had a meteoric rise to national stardom. Winning an Olympic gold medal against Canada will do that for a person.
It’s not merely the gold medal, though. It’s the way that medal was won. Rooney, in her first stint as a starter for Team USA, outdueled Finnish goalie guru Noora Räty twice — including a 14-save shutout in the semifinal game. Then she stood on her head for a dramatic shootout victory against Canada, denying Marie-Philip Poulin and besting Shannon Szabados in a historic gold-medal classic.
From the moment Rooney took that final swipe at a trickling puck in the crease, it’s been a whirlwind. Award shows, late-night television appearances, public shootout challenges to Justin Bieber ... it’s been quite the year thus far.
Now, having only just turned 21 in July, conquering hero Rooney must turn the page on Olympic glory and refocus on collegiate prowess for a run with the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs.
Women’s hockey has found its own version of Katie Ledecky.
We did it 🥇 pic.twitter.com/YI6B2AZyle— Maddie Rooney (@maddie_rooney35) February 22, 2018
Enough said, right?
But Rooney was already turning heads at Minnesota-Duluth prior to taking over the starting national team job. In fact, the gold-medal game came just days before the anniversary of her setting a school record by stopping 62 Minnesota shots in a 2-1 double-overtime victory. She saved 112 shots on goal in a two-game span, setting a WCHA conference tournament record. She was named tournament MVP, marking the first time the award was given to a player on the losing side.
One particular save in that massive workload earned her the No. 2 spot on the SportsCenter Top 10 for that week.
UMD's Maddie Rooney makes a ridiculous save reaching behind her catching a puck off the crossbar on her back pic.twitter.com/iVRGyGgfcd— Born Salty (@cjzero) March 5, 2017
Her 1,013 saves in 37 games ranks second-best in a single season and fourth-best in save percentage in school history (.942). A 1.65 goals-against average was 10th-best in the NCAA.
All that as a sophomore.
She backed up Nicole Hensley for the 2017 IIHF World Championship, watching as her future Olympic teammate won gold against Canada in overtime. Roles would be reversed the following year in PyeongChang.
Most recently, Rooney was the starting goaltender for the USA U22 squad. She and Boston Pride rookie Katie Burt backstopped the three-game series against Canada. Rooney allowed just two goals on 56 shots in two games as the Americans swept the three-game set 4-1, 3-1, and 2-1.
But perhaps her most notable achievement is that now, when you Google the name “Maddie Rooney,” the first result isn’t the Disney Channel show “Liv and Maddie.” She even beat Disney this year, folks!
With Maddie Rooney starting all 37 games in 2016-17, the UMD Bulldogs went 25-7-5 and made it to the WCHA tournament final before losing to Wisconsin. That run of 112 saves within 48 hours in the WCHA final four solidified Rooney’s importance to the UMD women’s hockey program.
For further evidence, look no further than the 2017-18 campaign, while Rooney was centralized with the national team. The Bulldogs finished 15-16-4 and their team goals-against average jumped from 1.63 to 2.32. Their team save percentage fell from .943 to .915.
Getting Rooney back provides Minnesota-Duluth with a much-needed backbone. Of their 16 losses last season, seven were by only one; an additional game was lost by a goal and an empty-netter. Given how tight the WCHA is, those extra points would have gone a long way.
If she can get some goal support, she could very well be the best collegiate goaltender in the country this season as a redshirt junior.
Is this ranking too high or too low?
Maddie Rooney’s stock will never be higher than it is at this very moment. She played out of her mind and was rewarded with a gold medal on the game’s biggest stage against her country’s biggest rival in the sport. That win was voted Game of the Year at the ESPYs and secured for Rooney one of the most prestigious individual awards in women’s hockey, the Bob Allen Women’s Player of the Year Award. The world is her oyster.
The next step would ideally be a Frozen Four title. But unless Minnesota-Duluth ups their game offensively, they may have a hard time getting past the likes of Minnesota or Wisconsin.
It is strange to go from international acclaim, being dubbed the Madam Secretary of Defense, to a college lecture hall wrapping up a pre-business degree. Nevertheless, the future is bright for Rooney. There are still plenty more collegiate, international, and/or professional games to be played in her young career.
Maddie Rooney is just getting started.