Title Tandem

Nicole Hensley And Maddie Rooney Backstopped PWHL Minnesota To The Inaugural Walter Cup Championship
By: 
Jessi Pierce

It’s no secret that a key to on-ice success and a deep championship run is having a good goaltender. A hot hand, but a cool tendy.

If you’re lucky, you’ve got two. 

That was certainly the case for PWHL Minnesota, the inaugural Walter 

Cup champions.

Minnesota selected Nicole Hensley as the first goalie in the PWHL Draft on Sept. 18, 2023, taking the Lakewood, Colorado, native in the second round, 12th overall. 

Also in attendance on draft day waiting to hear her name called was Andover, Minn., native, Maddie Rooney, who had been Hensley’s goalie partner in past competitions with the U.S. Women’s National Team. Yes, the gold medal-winning, shootout saving Maddie Rooney. Surely someone would take a chance on one of the 2018 Team USA heroes.

However, eight goalies and 90 players names were called during the inaugural PWHL Draft—and Rooney’s wasn’t one of them.

“It was stupid,” Hensley said. “Like, absolutely insane. I might be biased because I train with her day in and day out, but now, especially after that (semifinal) Toronto series (where Rooney posted back-to-back shutouts and allowed two goals in four games). If the world didn’t know what she was capable of before, they do now. I’m sure there are teams that are regretting not being able to pick her up when they could.”

Former Minnesota general manager Natalie Darwitz was well aware of Rooney’s talent. Despite not taking her in the draft, Darwitz invited Rooney to training camp in September, and signed her to a two-year deal at the end of December.

“Not being drafted was kind of a blow,” said Rooney. “But my goal this year was to just kind of have fun with the game and wait for opportunities if they came. I’m fortunate enough that Minnesota gave me the camp invite and then ultimately making the team and then getting some opportunities.

“It definitely made me stronger in the long run.” 

Minnesota would agree. 

Together, Hensley and Rooney were a dynamic brick wall duo, combining for three shutouts in 10 postseason games. 

During the regular season, Rooney went 5-3-2-2 with a .915 save percentage and 2.08 goals-against average - finishing fourth among PWHL goalies. Hensley was right behind her with a 5-3-2 record and 2.19 goals-against.

“We have two great goalies,” said Ken Klee, head coach of PWHL Minnesota. “All year we kind of rotated back and forth. Obviously, Maddie got hot in the first round, so it was tough to take her out. But we knew we could go back to Nicole at any point, and she would be ready to go.”

The duo split time throughout the postseason, but it was Hensley who stopped all 17 shots faced en route to lifting the nearly 35-pound Walter Cup, named after PWHL investors Mark and Kimbra Walter, on May 29 when Minnesota defeated Boston 3-0 in the decisive Game 5 of the PWHL Finals. 

“Looking at it, and we thought this all season, having two very strong goaltenders that can share the load was very helpful,” Hensley said. “Down the stretch we were able to be pretty fresh going into both series.”

 

1A and 1B

Hensley and Rooney have been goaltending partners since 2017. That’s when each entered play with the U.S. Women’s National Team. They each claimed Olympic gold at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, and then brought home a silver medal at the 2022 Games. 

They also don a gold medal from the 2017 Women’s World Championship, as well as a silver from the 2022 Women’s Worlds among several other international events.

Off the ice, they instantly roomed together and found themselves developing an easy friendship. After all, who understands the highs and lows of a goaltender better than another goaltender?

 “Goalies are kind of out on an island back there,” Rooney said. “And to be able to confide and have a good relationship with someone who’s in the same position as you definitely makes the job easier knowing that you look over on the bench and you have that support versus a rivalry.”

It didn’t take long for Rooney and Hensley to start training together in the offseason and Hensley was officially calling Minnesota home to continue her training alongside her friend by 2020.

“They’re both [number] ones,” said Klee. “People said, ‘Is that going to be a problem?’ It’s not because they embrace it. So, I’ve let them roll with it all year. Like one of them said, they have a unique, special relationship.”

One that now includes new hardware for their trophy cases: the Walter Cup. 

“You work so hard for these moments, and that’s why it’s so important to make every moment matter,” concluded Hensley. “Our entire team really came together and that’s what pushed us over the finish line.”

 

Jessi Pierce is a freelance writer covering the NHL and hockey in Minnesota. She hosts the hockey-centric Bardown Beauties Podcast.

Issue: 
2024-06

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