Ice Gold

Twenty Years In The Making, U.S. Women Crowned Olympic Champions After Win For The Ages

Things happen pretty quickly when you've been crowned Olympic champions.

While Maddie Rooney and her U.S. teammates were still celebrating their gold-medal victory, someone snuck onto her Wikipedia page and changed her status from Goaltender with the U.S. Women's Olympic Team to Secretary of Defense.

Asked about it the next day, the 20-year-old netminder deflected the attention with the same skill she used to turn away Canadian shooters.

"That's funny, but I wouldn't call myself that," said Rooney, who had yet to remove the smile from her face or the gold medal from around her neck.

Her teammates quickly responded, "We would."

Whether it was youthful naiveté or supreme confidence, it was that same smile peeking through her red, white and blue goalie mask that put her teammates' minds at ease with Olympic gold on the line.

"Honest to God, I looked up and saw Maddie smiling and said, 'We're good, we got this,'" said captain Meghan Duggan. "She's so calm and so confident."

Rooney's play between the pipes was just one more example of legendary USA Hockey coach Dave Peterson's championship philosophy that the secret to winning an international tournament is getting off the bus with the best goalie.

While there was no shortage of great goaltenders on the Olympic ice inside the Gangneung Hockey Centre, few had the luxury of having a high-powered team in front of them the way Rooney did. And it took every one of them coming together to knock Canada from its perch atop the Olympic podium.

Among them were the Lamoureux sisters, Jocelyne and Monique, who were reunited late in the pre-Olympic preparations to bring more offense to a team that never lacked for scoring chances but struggled to find that back of the net. The move paid off as they teamed up for six of the squad's 17 goals in the tournament, including Jocelyne's pair scored 6 seconds apart, the quickest ever scored by any player, male or female, in Olympic competition.

"I'm not surprised that they were difference makers in this outcome," said head coach Robb Stauber. "I told them before the Olympics that they were going to be a big difference in us winning a gold medal. I could feel it."

And when Monique scored a breakaway goal with 6:21 left in the gold-medal game, her teammates could feel it too.

Still, it came down to a shootout and that's when sister Jocelyne's sick "Oops, I did it again" move turned Canadian goaltender Shannon Szabados into a pretzel and the U.S. into Olympic champions.

"They're the best fighters I've ever been around," Gigi Marvin said of her longtime teammates. "As my grandpa would always say, 'If you're in the trenches who are you going to pick?' And I'm going to pick the Lams."

It was a shining moment of redemption for a team that has won seven of the last eight IIHF Women's World Championships but had been snake bitten when it came to Olympic gold. With the sting of Sochi a constant reminder, the team took up residency last fall in Tampa, Fla.. with one thought on their minds.

Along the way they waged a very public battle for equality, endured a hurricane, crisscrossed the continent on an exhibition tour, welcomed new teammates and said goodbye to old friends, all in the name of taking the final step up the podium.

"You can win as many World Championships as you want but at the end of the day the Olympic gold medal is different," Stauber said.  "Quite honestly, if you're looking at your past, successes or failures, when it comes to a game like this very little has to do with those outcomes. Certainly you can learn from your past, which we did from what happened in 2014, but at the end of the day it's a new day."

That new day meant a different style of play, one that featured a free-flowing, puck possession style of play that kept opponents constantly on their heels. But while the chances were there night after night, the goals were harder to come by. That's where the young goaltending tandem of Nicole Hensley and Rooney stepped in to shut down the opposition.

Rooney was only 7 months old and Hensley was barely 2 years old when Cammi Granato, Karyn Bye and crew celebrated winning the first Olympic gold medal in women's ice hockey 20 years ago. But stepping onto the biggest stage in sport, they channeled their inner Sarah Tueting and Sara DeCosta in helping the U.S. recapture that golden feeling.

"The 1998 team was our role models in this process and to get it done with this group of women was just amazing for our sport and youth in general," Rooney said.

Just as the "Miracle on Ice" inspired what would later come to be known as the "greatest generation" of NHL players, Granato and her teammates opened the door for females of all ages to find a league of their own.

On the anniversary of the biggest victory in men's hockey and three days after celebrating the 20-year mark of the women striking gold in Nagano, these women were poised make their own history and inspire the next generation.

"When you think that it's been 38 years since the 1980 Miracle on Ice and 20 years since the 1998 team and to have Angela Ruggiero giving us our medals it seemed like the stars aligned for us it just seemed like it was meant to be," said Monique Lamoureux, one of six players competing in their third Olympics.

It's too early to tell if this will be the last hurrah for some of the team's veterans. If it is, they are going out on top. But if they decide they have enough left in the tank, it's comforting to know that Rooney will most likely return to the U.S. crease four years down the road in China.

"You set out to win a gold medal but when you take a step back and think about who you're representing, the people back home that you don't even know and they love that you're representing them, there's so much pride in that," Duggan said before exiting the stage to get the celebration started. "That's what it's about."



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