Matt Mendelsohn, who writes below, has been a photographer and journalist for the last thirty-three years. He worked at UPI and USA Today during the 80’s and 90’s and is now primarily a portrait photographer. His daughter Alexandra plays hockey at MYHA in the U14 girls travel team.
Like most local rinks, the walls around the Rockville Ice Arena are crammed with banners of championships and teams long gone by — a 2003 U14 win here, a 2013 Silver Stick runner-up there. But Rockville might have do a bit of reorganizing in the coming weeks to make room for its biggest banner yet.
This one will read simply: “Home of Haley Skarupa, US Olympian.”
— Haley Skarupa (@skrooops28) January 2, 2018
On Sunday, Skarupa, who grew up playing in the Montgomery Youth Hockey Association before joining the Washington Pride Tier 1 program, became the first woman from the Washington metro area ever named to a US Olympic roster, a feat that years ago would have seemed downright far-fetched for a player not from a more traditional hockey latitude.
And while the DC area might never beat out Warroad, Minnesota — the tiny Minnesota town of 1,794 that has sent a whopping eight hockey players to the Olympics including TJ Oshie — for the title of “Hockey Town USA,” the naming of three local players made a significant dent in the deficit this weekend. Vienna, Va. native Garrett Roe (men’s team) and Frederick, Md. native Noah Grove (Paralympic roster) were also named as US Olympians.
NBC Sports Washington gives props to Chris Bourque and several other local players who were named US Olympians on Monday pic.twitter.com/8h9fvHwfMg
— Ian Oland (@ianoland) January 3, 2018
While Skarupa is the first area woman ever included on an American roster, Jessica Lutz, another Pride alum, played for the Swiss national team in Sochi and won a bronze medal.
At the Rockville rink Tuesday night, you couldn’t walk past a group of parents without hearing the name Skarupa being mentioned, even if more than a few weren’t quite sure how to pronounce it. And a mechanical malfunction that shut down two of the rink’s three sheets of ice actually proved serendipitous, as it forced several teams to cram together for practice on the remaining sheet. That in turn allowed for an impromptu celebration of Skarupa’s accomplishment. Girls from both the Pride and MYHA travel programs laughed as they held aloft signs urging Skarupa and Team USA to bring home the gold.
“It’s so great,” said 16-year-old Hannah Tingley of Mt. Airy, Maryland. “It shows you can go a long way even if you’re from a place like Maryland.”
“It kind of inspires me and shows what I can do, too,” she added.
Carol French, whose daughter Maya plays for the Pride’s U14 minor team, agreed. “It was really cool to see D.C. hockey represented so well. We were really excited during the Winter Classic announcement to see so many names from the area scroll by. She’s been so looking forward to the Winter Olympics.”
Like girls at Bethesda’s Stone Ridge Academy of the Sacred Heart who still talk about their personal interactions with Katie Ledecky, the impact of meeting a professional athlete, particularly a female one, can’t be overstated.
“One of Maya’s best experiences was an away game in New Jersey where she was able to snag some [NWHL] Riveters tickets,” French added. “She was super excited to go through the line and do the meet-and-greet in her Pride gear. Some of the players would say things like, ‘I remember playing the Pride when I was young!'”
For longtime Pride coach Kush Sidhu, who coached Skarupa for four years in Rockville before she left for a stellar career at Boston College (twice a finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award given to the nation’s top player), the moment was sweet. He recalled first seeing Haley play.
“I had seen her play and I knew she was quite good,” Sidhu said. “But at that age you never knew how good they’re going to be. By her last two years she was one of the most dominant players in the US. I mean, she had 191 points in her senior year, and that’s even with missing a bunch of games because she was playing with the US team.”
“I think it speaks well for our area,” Sidhu said. “Haley could have gone anywhere to play hockey but she chose to stay here and develop. When I was coaching in Boston in the nineties, we had several players on teams that I coached make Olympic teams. That was the expectation. That’s where all the talent was. There was a sense that if you weren’t from an area like Minnesota or Boston you were going to get overlooked. Now we have kids from California, Florida and Maryland that are getting their opportunities. I’m just glad we’re part of that.”
After college, Skarupa played for the US Women’s National Team, bringing home IIHF World Championship gold three times. Then, unexpectedly, she was dropped from the squad right after the 2017 campaign.
“I was surprised she was not on the team after the world championships because she had play really well,” Sidhu said. “But there was a coaching change. I’m assuming that at that time the coach may not have had the full understanding of what Haley could bring to the table. Maybe at that time he thought he had other options that were better for him at that time.”
“If anything, that time off gave her some time to heal her body. I don’t think she had ever not been on the ice one day in her life since she started skating. That kid could be on the ice ten hours a day.”
“The lesson is you control what you can control,” he added. “We told her ‘we’re proud of you no matter what.’”
In November, Skarupa was asked to return to training camp. And now, with the official announcement, she’ll be joining the likes of Hilary Knight, Meghan Duggan, and the Lamoureux sisters in PyeongChang.
And the Rockville Ice Arena better start looking for wall space for a new banner.
Photo: USA Hockey
Headline photo: Matt Mendelsohn
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