The US Women’s National Team has been on a non-stop media tour since winning the country’s first gold medal in 20 years. For defender Haley Skarupa, she says that it started to hit her of this accomplishment on the flight back to the US.
“I was thinking about it from our flight back from Korea,” Skarupa remembered during media availability Saturday night in Annapolis. “It was the first time it started to sink in that, ‘Wow, we’re going back to the United States bringing our country a gold medal.’ You can’t put words to that experience. You’re kinda going non-stop, but it’s good.”
The Rockville, Maryland native played in all five games for the US, though she did not register a point during the tournament, helped the defense for the US keep a co-tournament low of five goals against during the Olympics. Saturday night at the NHL Stadium Series game in Annapolis was a sort of homecoming for Skarupa, who was a Capitals fan when she was growing up.
“It’s awesome to come back here,” said Skarupa. “I was going to come back and watch this game regardless with my family and friends, but it’s awesome to come back here with my teammates and bring home a gold medal and show it to my family and friends.”
One of the last moments of the celebration of the gold medal was the fact that two flags were on the ice were the USA flag and the flag of Maryland. It was brought on the ice by Skarupa’s former teammates from the Washington Pride.
“Two of my best friends (Kelly Sherman and Kat Mackey) literally flew in the day before the game,” Skarupa said. “I didn’t know they brought the flag– it was so dang cool to see that. I brought it down, took a picture with it and it was so crazy to bring a piece of home out there with me. I love the flag it’s great. It’s so much cooler than all the other ones.”
While Maryland and the Mid-Atlantic is without a professional women’s team, the game has been growing in the girls’ ranks. Ranging from U12 to U19, the DC, Maryland, and Virginia (AKA the DMV) area has been starting to grow with the influx of girls picking up the sport– something that may rise from the USA winning gold.
“The sport has come a long way in this area,” explained Skarupa. “It used to be you play boys’ hockey until you’re in high school. Nowadays, there’s so many girls’ teams in the area. At the clinic, there was over 200 girls register from the DMV area. It’s awesome and really exciting. To see how far it’s come since I’ve been playing has been really incredible.”
Despite not playing on a girls’ team until she was in her teens, Skarupa relished the challenge of playing on the boys’ roster. It’s something she said that was fairly invaluable to her development to where she is today.
“I loved playing against the boys,” remember Skarupa. “They challenge you, they’re aggressive, and they’re ruthless. I played until I was 12 against the boys and then my brother and his friends out in the driveway. Getting beat up by the boys really helps you in the long run. Getting to prove the boys wrong is a good feelings.”
The Rockville native doesn’t forget her roots. She said she had numerous people coming up to here this week from people who went to pre-school with her to old teachers from Wooten High School. She also credits former Capital Jeff Halpern (and to an extent his Astro Donuts store) for helping her on her way to development.
“Jeff Halpern helped me throughout my career,” mentioned Skarupa. “We both skated through the same power-skating coach, Wendy Marco and Cold Rush and he became a coach there. Skating with him helped push me, too. He’s a great role model for this area with his success and how he gives back to the community.”
While she is riding high now, Skarupa is also taking the future into account with a clearer head. She said that she’s taking it one day at a time and while there’s not a team there and Capitals’ owner Ted Leonsis hasn’t talked to her about one coming through– she believes the area should be rewarded with a professional team sooner rather than later.
“In the future, women’s pro hockey should expand to this area,” according to Skarupa. “With all the girls that play here and all the interest, there’s a huge opportunity for women’s hockey in this area.”