DULUTH—When then 20-year-old Maddie Rooney was named to the 2017-18 United States Women's National Team, it appeared the Minnesota Duluth junior goaltender likely would be just along for the ride to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
After all, that's was Rooney's role when she was part of Team USA for the 2017 IIHF Women's World Championship, playing behind the more experienced Nicole Hensley and Alex Rigsby.
Instead, Rooney has been Team USA's go-to-goaltender in the lead-up to the Olympics, playing in seven of 12 games. She posted a 1.55 goals-against average and .924 save percentage with one shutout in five wins and two losses.
Hensley, a 23-year-old from Lindenwood University who played in two World Championships, appeared in just two games in the lead-up to the Winter Games while Rigsby, the 26-year-old from Wisconsin with three worlds appearances, entered just four games.
"Going into this, I didn't really know what to expect," Rooney said Tuesday, Feb. 6, from Pyeongchang. "I knew that the other two had more experience and I was just going in knowing I was going to work hard. I'm really grateful for the time that I've gotten. It's really helped me a lot as a goaltender. I've really enjoyed being in that role. I know I'm going to continue to work hard and try to earn it every day."
Rooney said her biggest challenge and biggest area of growth since joining Team USA this season has been her play outside the crease.
Team USA — coached by Duluth native Robb Stauber, a former college and NHL goaltender who won the Hobey Baker Award at Minnesota — tries to wrap its goaltenders into every play. There are a lot of exchanges between goalies and defensemen, so netminders have to be able to play the puck behind the net and move it in the right direction, Rooney said.
While playing the puck was a point of emphasis for Rooney during the second half of her sophomore year, she admitted it wasn't something she did much as a Bulldog.
Stauber asked Rooney to not only be more consistent in that area of the game, but dang good at it if she wanted to play in the Olympics.
"It's a big part of who we are — our goalie's ability to see plays, read plays, make a difference with the stick blade, the skating and anticipation," Stauber said. "She stops the puck well, she loves the big moments. All those things are critical. But trust me, the little things when it comes to a goalie, like the ability to read and anticipate plays and get the dump-ins and making good decisions, will make the difference between winning and losing. She gets that and has gotten better at that."
While Rooney earned the most playing time in the lead-up to the Olympics, Stauber said he has not named a No. 1 goaltender for the Winter Games, which begin at 1:40 a.m. CT Sunday against Finland.
Stauber said Rooney will play in Pyeongchang. After all, Rooney has a skill that's key for Olympic goalies: a short memory. There's little time for a goaltender to work through a funk, he said.
"She has a very good presence about her, a very good demeanor for a goalie," Stauber said. "If something happens in a game and the puck goes in, whether it's a great shot or not even a great shot and the puck still ends up in the net, she has the ability to let it go. You need that in critical moments and times."