An American Goalie’s Hot Hand Takes Her All the Way to the Olympics

An American Goalie’s Hot Hand Takes Her All the Way to the Olympics

“It was one of those days where she was on fire,” Cameranesi said. “I’ve come to realize ‘one of those days’ is every single day she’s on the ice. She’s just so amazing.”

The national team added Rooney as a backup goalie for the world championships in March, and two months later selected her for the Olympic residency camp in Wesley Chapel, Fla.

The question is whether the fast-rising Rooney, just 20, can help the United States finally wrest the gold medal from Canada, winner of the last four Olympic tournaments.

Coach Robb Stauber has not named his starter for the opener against Finland on Sunday, but no one would be surprised if it was Rooney. On the team’s pre-Olympic tour, she logged most of the ice time, leading in starts (six), victories (four) and goals-against average (1.83). Rooney faced Canada five times, winning three games, including the Four Nations Cup final, 5-1, in November. The two losses came in overtime.

“She’s very fast, takes up the bottom of the net really well, and she’s played really well against us,” said Canada goaltender Shannon Szabados, a two-time gold medalist.

Minnesotans have been part of every United States Olympic women’s hockey team since the first in 1998; this one has seven. But Rooney will be the first Minnesota-born goaltender. She made it by impressing Stauber, the first goalie to win the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s top player, in 1988.

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Rooney, 20, played on a boys’ hockey team during her senior year of high school. “I wanted to get the ultimate challenge,” she said.

Credit
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

“She’s not a goalie-school goalie,” said Stauber, who should know, since he owns a goaltending school. A goalie-school goalie, he said, knows how to stand and move. Rooney’s anticipation, he said, sets her apart.

“Players can hit corners at 70 and 80 miles an hour, and if they do, you had better have an idea where it’s going before the puck is shot,” he said. “She has that idea. And then you have to have selections or movements that keep the puck from entering the net, and she does.”

Rooney strengthened her game by switching from girls’ hockey to boys’ hockey for her senior year at Andover High School, near Minneapolis.

Rooney’s father, Mike, approached Andover boys’ coach Mark Manney before the season with the idea. Maddie played on boys’ teams for the Andover Youth Hockey Association, so her potential teammates knew and liked her.

“I wanted to get the ultimate challenge,” she said. “Faster release, faster pace of the game, more physical.”

Two games into the season, Rooney won the No. 1 job with a scoreless relief effort against Spring Lake Park High, winning, 5-3, after Andover fell behind by 3-0 in the second period. Her 2.83 goals-against average and .910 save percentage compared favorably to the 2012-13 Andover starter Chase Perry (2.70, .910), a Detroit Red Wings draft pick who is now at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Andover finished 10-12-3.

Manney has sent five players to Division I. None, he said, was more focused or driven than Rooney. Still, Manney said, some questioned his decision to keep her.

“I don’t want to say I took a lot of abuse, but I got opinions from a lot of hockey people who said I was doing a disservice by having her play,” he said. “One, I was taking a spot away from a boy, and two, I was not preparing her for women’s college hockey. I was preparing her for something she might never face. I told those folks, I don’t think college is her ultimate goal.”

Minnesota-Duluth offered her a scholarship first; Laura Schuler, the Bulldogs’ chief recruiter at the time, coaches Canada’s Olympic women’s team. Last season in college, Rooney started all 37 games, finishing 10th nationally in goals-against average (1.65) and fourth in save percentage (.942).

At the world championships, Rooney shut out Russia in her only appearance. Then she started three of the Americans’ four games at Four Nations tournament. Rooney’s rise with the national team did not surprise Minnesota Coach Brad Frost, whose team eliminated Minnesota-Duluth in the N.C.A.A. quarterfinals, 1-0.

“Last year she was as good as anybody in the country,” he said.

None of Stauber’s three goaltenders — Rooney, Alex Rigsby or Nicole Hensley — has a minute of Olympic experience. Rooney said she would be ready, thanks in part to the boys of Andover.

“The whole experience has been really humbling,” she said. “I’m just trying to take it all in day by day. I can feel myself improving, and I’m looking forward to what’s to come.”

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