When Maddie Rooney took over sole possession of the starting goaltender role at Minnesota Duluth in 2016-17, Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell — then in her second year — wasted no time proclaiming Rooney the No. 1 right away during the preseason.

Crowell moved even quicker with her latest starting goaltender, proclaiming junior Emma Soderberg as Rooney’s heir in the spring, before the Olympic gold medalist even had collected her degree.

Soderberg, with Olympic aspirations of her own, has spent the majority of her first two seasons as a Bulldog watching Rooney from the bench on gameday. Now the Swedish Women’s National Team prospect takes control of the UMD crease starting this weekend when the Bulldogs open 2020-21 at 6:05 p.m. Friday and 3:05 p.m. Saturday at Minnesota State-Mankato.

“She’s ready. She’s paid her dues and she’s put herself in a good spot,” said Crowell, who now in her sixth season at UMD has never been shy about sharing her plans for top players. “When you say that you have a starter, it gives that player some confidence and we want Soderberg to be playing with confidence and feeling that from the coaches.”

Minnesota Duluth starting goaltender Emma Soderberg, right, defends against a shot on goal during an October preseason practice at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.  (Clint Austin/caustin@duluthnews.com)
Minnesota Duluth starting goaltender Emma Soderberg, right, defends against a shot on goal during an October preseason practice at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. (Clint Austin/caustin@duluthnews.com)

Newsletter signup for email alerts

As a freshman in 2015-16, Rooney split time with senior Kayla Black and posted a .899 save percentage, 3.18 goals against average and 5-12 record in 19 games, with 18 starts. She became the full-time starter the following year.

Soderberg has seen the ice even less than that in her first two seasons, but the numbers she’s posted — though a small sample size indeed — better resemble what Rooney recorded as a sophomore (.942, 1.65, 25-7-5) en route to a home NCAA tournament game and Olympic tryout. In nine games, including five starts, Soderberg has a .928 save percentage and 1.80 GAA. More importantly, the Bulldogs are 4-1.

Sitting and watching Rooney was a new experience and a hard one, said Soderberg, who back in Sweden had always split time with another goaltender. But she learned a lot about patience, being prepared for whatever comes her way and how to handle pressure.

Rooney wrote the book on that last one.

“I have high expectations of myself. Sometimes I can be hard on myself for that reason,” Soderberg said. “There is usually not much outside pressure.

“It was so cool to watch how (Rooney) plays. Even though she had all that pressure, you couldn't tell. She was always calm and had the biggest smile on her face, just out there doing crazy saves. She was calm doing all those things.”

While capable of making the same crazy, athletic saves that Rooney did, Soderberg said she’s a more structured goaltender.

Her coach backed up that self-assessment.

“She has a calming presence in net. She doesn’t try to do too much. She stays right where she needs to be,” Crowell said. “She’s a smart goalie, smart hockey player, which helps her understand the game and understand where some of the threats will be. I like that she’s mobile. That’s big, helping direct traffic with our D.”

Soderberg’s style of play in net does have some similarities to Rooney’s. The Swedish netminder is also a fan of playing the puck like Rooney did after returning in 2018-19 from the Olympics.

The 22-year-old Soderberg also possesses, in 2020-21, the same ambitions that a 19-year-old Rooney had as a first-year starter back in 2016-17: making her country’s national team and playing in the next Winter Olympics — scheduled for February 4-20, 2022 in Beijing, China.

Soderberg said the competitive culture, facilities and coaching staff at UMD push her every day toward that achieving that dream.

“It’s a big goal of mine,” said Soderberg, who backstopped Sweden to a bronze medal at the 2016 Under-18 Women’s World Championship. “First, my goal is to make the national team and then the next thing. Since I was younger, it was, ‘Oh, I want to go play in the Olympics for Sweden.’”

The Minnesota Duluth women’s hockey team practices at Amsoil Arena on on Oct 13, 2020. UMD announced Thursday that no spectators will be permitted for the Bulldogs’ upcoming home series against Minnesota and St. Cloud State at Amsoil Arena. File / News Tribune
The Minnesota Duluth women’s hockey team practices at Amsoil Arena on on Oct 13, 2020. UMD announced Thursday that no spectators will be permitted for the Bulldogs’ upcoming home series against Minnesota and St. Cloud State at Amsoil Arena. File / News Tribune

No spectators at Amsoil Arena for rest of 2020

While always unlikely, UMD made it official on Thursday that no spectators — “including family and friends of participants and staff” — will be permitted for the Bulldogs’ series against Minnesota Nov. 27-28 and against St. Cloud State Dec. 4-5.

The announcement came after Minnesota Governor Tim Walz issued an executive order Wednesday night that imposed new restrictions to help combat the spread of COVID-19 in the state. That order included a ban on all spectators at professional and college sports, which are being allowed to continue, unlike high school and youth sports.

Minnesota State-Mankato had announced a ban on spectators for this weekend’s series prior to the governor’s latest executive order.