Andover goaltender Maddie Rooney is comfortable being different.
From a background in boys’ hockey to an obsession with all things Justin Bieber to her tremendous sophomore season, Rooney is her own young woman and hockey player.
It’s nice being accepted, too, which is why earning assistant captain honors this season felt so sweet. Players took a vote and coach Melissa Sailor took time at the next day’s practice to announce the Huskies’ leadership.
“I was honored,” said Rooney, a junior who played only boys’ hockey until last season and came to the Andover girls’ program relatively unknown. “It was kind of a relief, too. I know I have to be a good leader by example. I want to push the girls on the ice and make sure there is no slacking off.”
Rooney, a Star Tribune All-Metro second-team selection last season, holds herself to a similar high standard. She posted a record of 18-7-1 as a sophomore, with a 1.64 goals-against average, a .926 save percentage and seven shutouts. But the season ended with a thud when Centennial defeated the Huskies 5-1 in the Class 2A, Section 5 quarterfinals.
“It hurt,” said Rooney, rolling her eyes at the mention of the loss. “I felt like letting in the goals I could have saved let the team down.”
Rooney vowed to learn through adversity. She spent the offseason honing the physical and mental components of her game.
“I’d say I feel better than last season,” said Rooney, who did not allow a goal in Andover’s first two games this season. “I feel more confident.”
A decade of boys’ hockey toughened Rooney. Whether shrugging off chirping opponents or withstanding teammates’ big slap shots in practice, Rooney not only survived but thrived. She helped her peewee and bantam teams reach state tournaments.
“I felt like I fit in pretty well with the guys,” Rooney said. “I liked playing with the guys. I felt like it made me a better goalie.”
She moved over to the girls’ game as a sophomore in hopes of drawing college attention. But she wondered what sort of reception she would get from female teammates.
“I was worried about being thought of as cocky because I played guys’ hockey,” Rooney said. “But they accepted me.”
Ben Monahan, who coached the Huskies’ last season before stepping down, said Rooney won over teammates with her talent and tenacity.
Goalies, Monahan said, typically are not great practice players. Rooney was different that way, too. Breakaway drills, with 26 skaters trying head fakes or fancy stick work, ended in all but one or two cases with Rooney stopping the puck.
“Her saves in practice wowed everyone,” Monahan said. “She doesn’t give up.”
Her strong suits — anticipating passes, beating the puck to a spot — needed recalibration for the girls’ game. Rooney, who plays softball, compared it to a batter seeing nothing but fastballs then struggling with a changeup.
“I was told by some goalie coaches that I almost overplay the puck because I move too fast,” she said. “You try to stay focused. Say I let in a goal; I go back to the basics and focus on the things I know I’m good at. Like skating. I focus on getting there quick.”
Rooney’s intensity comes through talking hockey. As for the Biebs, well, Rooney tries laughing off her love for Canadian pop star.
“It’s pretty bad,” said Rooney, showing off her Justin Bieber cell phone case. “None of my friends like him but I have pretty much everything of his. He’s coming out with a new movie at Christmas and I just pre-ordered the tickets.
“My room is really bad,” she said. “His favorite color is purple and I have purple lights surrounding the posters. I consider that pretty weird.”