Maddie Rooney, Olympic hockey hero, takes her talent to Centennial High School

Maddie Rooney
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A few weeks ago, Maddie Rooney, the star goalie of the U.S. Olympic champion hockey team, received a surprise phone call from her Minnesota youth hockey coach, Sean Molin.

Molin, who recently became head coach of the Centennial High School girls team outside the Twin Cities, was looking to fill an opening for a defense/goalie assistant.

“I knew she was busy, and I knew that she had lots of things [going on], but I thought, hey, she’s trying to get into coaching,” Molin said. “I thought it could be a good opportunity if we worked around her schedule.”

Rooney was interested. It had been five years since her last substantial conversation with Molin, who had coached her for a few years from age 12, on boys teams in peewees and bantams.

Rooney almost never became a goalie. Her dad was reluctant in her elementary school days, not believing in her ability enough to spend on equipment, she has said. It took almost two years of begging before her wish came true in the form of Christmas presents at age 9 or 10.

She remembers her first time earning a USA jersey. At 16, she was cut from an under-18 national team selection camp, but a goalie who made the roster was injured. Rooney had already departed for Minnesota, so she flew back to Lake Placid, N.Y., later that same day.

Since her last significant chat with Molin, Rooney finished her high school career with the boys team. She made the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship roster as the U.S.’ least-experienced goalie (and the only teenager). That November, U.S. coach Robb Stauber confided in Rooney at a practice that she was already penciled in for the Olympic gold-medal game the following February, which Stauber never shared publicly until after the Games.

Rooney made the 2018 Olympic team. She started all but one game in South Korea, including the final against Canada, won by the U.S. in a shootout for its first Olympic title since 1998. Rooney was one of the standouts. Somebody changed the position on her Wikipedia page from “goalie” to “Secretary of Defense.”

She returned home to Minnesota to find a letter from U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. She went on “Ellen” and “The Tonight Show,” sitting the closest to Jimmy Fallon of the four U.S. players chosen for the couch interview (the others: captain Meghan Duggan and twins Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando, all at least eight years older than Rooney).

Rooney eased back into normal life. For her, that meant business marketing classes at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and her last two seasons playing for the Bulldogs. Hopes were high.

In Rooney’s sophomore season — before taking a year break for the Olympics — the Bulldogs made the eight-team NCAA Tournament for the first time in six years. She slashed her goals-against average nearly in half (to 1.65) and improved her record from 5-12 in 19 freshman games to 25-7-5, playing a nation-leading 98.6 percent of the team’s minutes.

In her junior season — the year after the Olympics — Rooney saw her GAA rise to 2.80 and her save percentage drop from her epic sophomore year, from .942 to .919. The team went 15-16-4.

“The outside pressure of the expectations that people had took a toll on me mentally, but looking back at it now, I’m grateful I went through that because it made stronger,” she said.

Meanwhile, Alex Cavallini, the only U.S. Olympic goalie not to start a game in South Korea, ascended. She was the top goalie in the CWHL and supplanted Rooney as the U.S. No. 1 under new coach Bob Corkum at the April 2019 World Championship.

“She was just flat out playing better at that time,” Rooney said. “I accepted my role for that tournament going into it.”

So Rooney, a year after denying four Canadians in the Olympic final shootout, watched from the bench as Cavallini denied four Finns in a world championship final shootout (after a Finland golden goal was controversially overturned upon review).

“I always say I’m more anxious on the bench than in the game,” Rooney said. “I was really happy for her to get the start. For it to come down to a shootout again after the Olympics was definitely weird to experience from the bench.”

This past winter, Rooney capped her college career with a resurgence. She brought her stats back near her sophomore-year level and finished with a winning season, albeit not reaching the ultimate goal of the NCAA Tournament (which ended up being canceled anyway due to the coronavirus, as did Rooney’s graduation). The campaign ended with a loss to Wisconsin on March 7. Rooney remembers sitting next to teammate Sydney Brodt in the post-game press conference, tears cascading.

She constructed a resume and LinkedIn profile to put her business marketing degree — emphasis on sports — to use. But she was always going to continue playing and coaching individuals or small groups of kids in the summer, part of her offseason routine.

That was the plan this summer, with an eye on joining the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) with the other top U.S. and Canadian Olympians. Then Molin called.

“Coaching high school has always been something I wanted to do,” said Rooney, who has done summer coaching since 2015 but no official role with a high school until now.

Come the fall, Rooney’s schedule will include PWHPA practices three days a week, weekday high school team practices, two or three high school games a week and weekend PWHPA games.

“One thing I’m in fear of,” in coaching, Rooney said, “if I get in a position where I’m not sure of the answer for a defensive position, that’s probably what I’m fearful for. Don’t know if that’s going to happen, but that’s probably my fear.”

Rooney can lean on the fact she’s not attempting something unprecedented. Natalie Darwitz, a 2002, 2006 and 2010 Olympian, coached high school and college during her playing career. Rooney’s Olympic teammates and fellow Minnesotans Hannah Brandt, Dani Cameranesi and Kelly Pannek have also coached high schoolers since PyeongChang.

“I think it’s good for her to get some experience learning to be assertive with the kids, and learn from a coaches’ perspective,” Molin said. “With her name, she’ll be able to get a head coaching job.”

Rooney will play, and perhaps coach, for as long as she can make the national team. Once she puts the pads away for good, she wants to pursue sports marketing. For now, this week will mark a turning point.

She began her regimented offseason training with a new personal goalie coach Monday. It’s her most serious work on ice since her last college game three months ago. Then on Thursday, Rooney begins the offseason high school coaching program. It’s all so new, but with a dash of familiarity.

“With the connection that I have with Sean, I also knew the other assistant coach pretty well, and it was close to home,” she said. “It all just seemed kind of like the right fit.”

MORE: U.S., Canada in same group for 2022 Olympic men’s hockey tournament

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Katie Ledecky talks swimming legacy and life in Gainesville

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OlympicTalk recently caught up with Katie Ledecky to discuss life since moving from Stanford to Florida 15 months ago, her meticulous mindset, and the legacy she continues to build.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can also catch an encore presentation of Ledecky’s performance at the 2022 U.S. Open this Saturday at 4:30 pm ET on NBC.

What does a typical day look like for you Gainesville? Walk me through a full day starting from the minute your alarm clock goes off.

Ledecky: A typical day would be waking up at 5 o’clock in the morning and swimming from 6 to 8. Then I have weights from 8 to 9:15. I get breakfast, have lunch and then take a nap. Then I have practice again at 2 or 3 in the afternoon for another two hours.

Wow, that sounds incredibly busy! Have you had a chance to find any new favorite places to eat in Gainesville?

Ledecky: I’m still kind of finding my spots. There is a breakfast spot pretty close to campus that a lot of the swimmers like, so I go there quite a bit, but I’m still looking. I haven’t gone to very many places more than once.

What are you doing in your free time? Are you coaching?

Ledecky: Yes, I’m volunteering with the [University of Florida] team, but I think of myself more as a teammate. I have a lot of other things going on with sponsorships, but aside from that, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I have a piano and enjoy playing that!

How often do you get to see your family?

Ledecky: My parents, David and Mary, still live in the D.C. area, and then my brother, Michael, lives in New York, so I’m a lot closer to home [than at Stanford]. I see them around the holidays, and they come to a lot of my swim meets.

I know how much you love to stay academically engaged. Are you taking any classes at the University of Florida?

Ledecky: I’m not taking any classes right now. I’m taking a break, but I’m still trying to learn as much as I can just in other areas, reading a lot and watching the news, following different things that I’m interested in. I think at some point, I’ll probably go to grad school, but I’m still figuring out what area that would be in right now.

There’s a quote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” I feel like that only scratches the surface of describing your work ethic and mindset. You demand excellence in every area of your life, not just from yourself, but from others around you. Can you talk about where that mindset comes from?

Ledecky: I’ve always had that kind of a mindset. I’m very driven, and I’m always setting new goals for myself no matter what I’ve achieved in the past. I’m always looking forward, I don’t take very many breaks, and so it’s always on to the next goal and making sure I’m doing the little things right and doing the things I need to do to reach my goals.

To be able to perform at the level that you do every single day takes a lot of mental toughness. What do Katie Ledecky’s inner thoughts look like? What do you tell yourself? Any affirmations? 

Ledecky: I try to stay positive no matter how well or how poorly a practice or a race is going. When I’m swimming, I give myself positive mental pep talks along the way throughout a race. I’ll say “keep it up,” “hold pace” or “hit this turn.”

I just want to read you a few tweets… 

You idolized Michael Phelps when you were younger, and now you’re that person for a lot of people. You’re the GOAT. You’re Katie Ledecky. Someone’s idol. What does that feel like?

Ledecky: It’s an honor to have young swimmers look up to me, and I don’t take that lightly. I try to be a good role model and reach out to young kids and sign autographs and take photos if people approach me at swim meets. I hope that there are some young swimmers out there that will grow up to be champions or maybe they’ll just continue to love the sport or find other things that they’re passionate about, but it’s an honor.

Have you had any memorable interactions with young swimmers?

Ledecky:  Yeah, actually the World Cup in Indianapolis [in November]. We were given those giant checks at the end of the meet that you really can’t travel with, so I was able to sign it and give it to one of the basket carriers at the meet. They were thrilled, and it was fun to be able to put a smile on their face.

Give me just one word to describe each of these milestones in your life, starting with the 2012 Olympics.

Ledecky: The first. It was my first international competition and my first gold medal, so that’s the one that’ll probably be the most special for me forever.

OLY-2012-SWIM

2016 Rio Olympics.

Ledecky: Consistency. I was swimming in multiple events at the Olympics for the first time and I just got into a really good rhythm and felt so comfortable in the pool deck. So confident. That was just a very unique feeling.

Tokyo Games.

Ledecky: Tokyo was different with all the COVID protocols. Nobody in the stands. No family there. But it was a lot of fun still, so a lot of great memories with my teammates there.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind at the end of your career? What do you want to be remembered for?

Ledecky: I’d like to be remembered as somebody that worked really hard and gave my best effort every time I got up on the blocks and represented Team USA. Hopefully, I can continue to inspire young kids to work hard in whatever it is that they are passionate about, whether that’s something academic, athletic, or something else. If you find something that you really love, you should go all in on it and try to be the best you can be at it.

You’ve achieved so much in life already personally and professionally, I just want to ask: Are you genuinely happy? Are you satisfied in this season of life right now?

Ledecky: Oh yeah, I’m very happy. I love the sport more and more every year. I get a little sad thinking about the day I will eventually retire–which isn’t anytime soon. I love the sport. I’m trying to just enjoy every day of training and racing and trying to be the best that I can be.

I say this all the time, I never imagined I would even make it to one Olympics and so to be training now to try to qualify for a fourth Olympics is it’s all just icing on the cake at this point and something that I truly enjoy. I enjoy doing it with my teammates, striving for similar goals, and getting to do it with really great people.

Knowing all that you know now, what advice would you give to your younger self — the little Palisades Porpoise?

Ledecky: I don’t have very many regrets or anything in my career, so I think I would just continue to tell myself to have fun and enjoy every moment. Maybe, write down a little bit more early on. I’ve done a better job of journaling and writing down different things so that I can remember them down the road, but I didn’t do as good of a job in 2012 and 2013.

Rapid-fire questions. Race day hype song? 

Ledecky: “Badlands” by Bruce Springsteen.

Finish this sentence: I’m not ready for a meet without … 

Ledecky: My suit, cap and goggles.

Did you have AIM back in the day? What was your embarrassing screen name?

Ledecky: I didn’t. I didn’t even have a cell phone until before the London Olympics. I think I actually borrowed my brother’s phone for that, and then we went out and bought an iPad so that I could FaceTime my family from London. I didn’t have an email account either until high school.

Your life is on the line. You need to sing one karaoke song to save it. What are you picking?

Ledecky: Well, USA Swimming did carpool karaoke in 2016 before the Olympics. My car did “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, which is a great karaoke song because it’s like 10 minutes long so maybe I would choose that just as a fun memory. We also did “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen in 2012. Those are two fun songs with some fond memories.

Post-workout meal?

Ledecky: After morning practice, eggs and toast or veggies and eggs. I love breakfast. I could eat breakfast food for all three meals and I’d be satisfied.

Cheat meal? 

Ledecky: Either pizza or a burger.

If you had to choose another Olympic sport to compete in what would it be and why? 

Ledecky: Probably hockey. I’m not good on skates, but it’s my favorite sport to watch.

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Marie-Philip Poulin is first female hockey player to win Canada Athlete of the Year

Marie-Philip Poulin
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Marie-Philip Poulin became the first female hockey player to win Canada’s Athlete of the Year after captaining the national team at the Winter Olympics and winning her third gold medal.

Poulin, 31, scored twice and assisted once in Canada’s 3-2 win over the U.S. in the Olympic final on Feb. 17. She has scored seven of Canada’s 10 goals over the last four Olympic finals dating to the 2010 Vancouver Games — all against the U.S.

Nine different male hockey players won Canada Athlete of the Year — now called the Northern Star Award — since its inception in 1936, led by Wayne Gretzky‘s four titles. Sidney Crosby won it in 2007 and 2009, and Carey Price was the most recent in 2015.

Poulin is the fifth consecutive Olympic champion to win the award in an Olympic year after bobsledder Kaillie Humphries in 2014, swimmer Penny Oleksiak in 2016, moguls skier Mikaël Kingsbury in 2018 and decathlete Damian Warner in 2021.

Canada’s other gold medalists at February’s Olympics were snowboarder Max Parrot in slopestyle, plus teams in speed skating’s women’s team pursuit and short track’s men’s 5000m relay.

In men’s hockey, Cale Makar won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP in leading the Colorado Avalanche to the Stanley Cup and the Norris Trophy as the season’s best defenseman.

The Northern Star Award is annually decided by Canadian sports journalists.

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