Rooney reflects on Olympic gold, looks to ‘raise the bar’


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Maddie Rooney. -- AP PHOTO

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- At just 22 years old, Team USA goaltender Maddie Rooney has accomplished quite a bit.

Rooney (no, no relation to those Rooneys) made her debut with the senior women's national team in the 2017 World Championship as a backup goaltender and made one appearance, a shutout over Russia in the preliminary round as the U.S. team went on to win gold. She was again the backup in the next World Championship in 2019, and recorded shutouts in both of her starts as the U.S. again won gold.

The highlight of her career, though came in the 2018 Olympics. Rooney took over as Team USA's starter, and led the Americans to Olympic gold for the first time in 20 years. In her four starts, she led all tournament goaltenders with a 1.16 goals-against average and ranked No. 2 with a .946 save percentage. She stoned Meghan Agosta on the last shot of the shootout in the championship game to clinch gold:

"During the shootout, I tell everyone that I kind of just blacked out," Rooney laughed when recalling the win at the Lemieux Complex this week. "I don't even remember what I was thinking. I just remember the aftermath, the dog pile on me. It was an amazing feeling. I can't really describe what I felt."

After the win in Pyeonchang, Rooney returned to her normal life as a senior at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where she said "it was weird walking around campus for a bit."

This season, Rooney has appeared in 10 games with the Bulldogs, and ranks No. 4 in the country with a 1.69 goals-against average and No. 2 in the country with a .931 save percentage.

Balancing the life of a college student and the life of the goaltender of the top women's hockey team in the world is an interesting challenge.

"It's fun, it's different environments," she said. "With college its a way different feel, and you get here and you're with elite players and you have to push yourself every day. I'm very fortunate to be challenged every day here."

At just 22, Rooney is poised to be a mainstay in the Americans' net for years to come. Winning Olympic gold as young as she did gives her the confidence moving forward as she and Team USA look to maintain their spot at the top of the women's hockey world.

"It changed my life a lot," she said. "Going forward, having that experience and accomplishment is great. It also just allowed myself to raise the bar for future goals for myself."

After Rooney graduates college, it's not yet clear what else is in store for her other than international play. There is one professional women's league in North America, the NWHL, and it does not yet pay its players a livable wage. Other members of both national teams are sitting out of the NWHL this year in hopes of building a viable, sustainable pro league that allows the women to be full-time hockey players and dedicate 100 percent of their time to becoming the best they can be at the game.

A lot can change between now and next season, and Rooney is hoping to be able to turn professional when her college career is over.

"My hope, obviously, is that there is one league," Rooney said. "I'm following along, I'm a senior, so I'm getting ready to start looking for what I'm going to do next year. I think it's great if we all combine and play in one league, and I think that's the direction its going, hopefully."

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