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College women's hockey: Fame hasn't changed Bulldogs' Rooney

Minnesota Duluth goaltender and Olympic gold medalist Maddie Rooney says she's not a superstar, even after stopping 29 shots and making two dramatic stops in Team USA's 3-2 shootout win over Canada in the final in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com Olympic gold medalist Maddie Rooney (left) answers a question from the audience for emcee Zach Schneider as teammate Sidney Morin listens. UMD honored the hockey players at an event at Grandma’s Sports Garden on Thursday.
Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com Olympic gold medalist Maddie Rooney (left) answers a question from the audience for emcee Zach Schneider as teammate Sidney Morin listens. UMD honored the hockey players at an event at Grandma’s Sports Garden on Thursday.
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Minnesota Duluth goaltender and Olympic gold medalist Maddie Rooney says she's not a superstar, even after stopping 29 shots and making two dramatic stops in Team USA's 3-2 shootout win over Canada in the final in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Rooney insists - vehemently, in fact - that she's not famous, even after appearing on "Ellen" and challenging Justin Bieber to a shootout on "The Tonight Show" with Jimmy Fallon.

That humble attitude is what has Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell excited for Rooney's return for her junior season.

"She's the same kid that she was when she left here, which speaks volumes of her because the amount of publicity and media attention she has gotten from this," Crowell said. "She is the most recognizable face now in women's hockey. It's a credit to her parents and her upbringing, and I just love that about her."

Rooney and former Bulldogs teammate Sidney Morin were back in Duluth on Thursday for the first time since helping Team USA capture its first gold in women's hockey in 20 years, just 49 days ago in Pyeongchang.

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They were honored by the university and community at Grandma's Sports Garden in Canal Park, taking part in a question-and-answer session before signing autographs for a few hundred fans - many of whom were young girls.

"It's awesome," Morin said. "I'm super happy to be back here in the city of Duluth and to share this medal with the community and everyone who supported us along the way."

Rooney also was reunited with the UMD teammates she left behind last season to go play for Team USA. Just like the fans, Rooney's teammates were jonesing for some selfies with her and the gold medal.

Crowell said Rooney's teammates are the ones she is worried about next season.

"I hope the team will treat her like a normal human being because I know they are all so proud of her and so impressed with what she's able to do," Crowell said. "Just treating her like a college kid again will be refreshing for her and everyone else."

Rooney won't be a Duluth resident again until August when she returns to her life as a college student. Rooney said the biggest challenge to transition back from life as an Olympian will be the 'student' aspect of student-athlete.

"It's definitely going to be different taking almost a year off now, but I'm really looking forward to it. Some of these guys are my best friends," Rooney said. "School is going to be the hardest part. I should probably take a summer class to ease myself back into it."

On the ice, Rooney said her awareness in games is what grew the most during her time with the U.S. Women's National Team. That's something Olympic coach and Duluth native Robb Stauber pointed out as well last month when visiting Amsoil Arena.

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Stauber acknowledged that he knew back in November that Rooney would be his starting goaltender in the Olympics. All she needed was a few more national team games on her resume, then she was set, he said.

"Maddie Rooney just has ice in her veins," Stauber said after returning from Pyeongchang. "She loves the heat of the moment. She loves those big games, always seems to perform well. She's an interesting goalie because there are times that, I've watched her play enough to say she has puck luck. I don't know how that works out. She just finds a way to keep the puck out of the net. A little puck luck with all the skill and talent, and just her demeanor, she was the one for the job without question."

Despite reaching the pinnacle of women's hockey by winning Olympic gold, Rooney said she's plenty driven to reach the ultimate goal in NCAA women's hockey - a national championship.

After all, the program was so close during her sophomore year in 2016-17, which ended with a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to rival Minnesota in an NCAA quarterfinal at Amsoil Arena.

"I think we all have a national championship in mind," Rooney said. "That's our ultimate goal. That's what I'm focused on now."

To help push Rooney and take her place during national team call-ups, Crowell bolstered the Bulldogs' crease on Wednesday by signing Sweden Under-18 National Team goaltender Emma Soderberg to a national letter of intent. Soderberg spent the past season as a teammate of Morin on MODO in the Sweden Women's Hockey League.

"She was one of my best friends over there in Sweden. I can't say enough good things about her as a person and hockey player," Morin said. "She is going to be a great addition to the team. She is an amazing goaltender and an even better person. It's going to be exciting to see her in a Bulldogs sweater."

Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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