For most of her life, Rockville native Haley Skarupa dreamed of winning an Olympic gold medal.
On Feb. 22 in PyeongChang, South Korea with her family and the world watching, Skarupa finally realized her dream, as the U.S. Women’s Hockey team won gold for the first time since 1998 in a 3-2 shootout win over Canada.
“I saw all the games that they played. It was a trip of a lifetime. It was completely insane,” said her mother, Penny Skarupa.
Since the game, the Wootton High School grad and her teammates have appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and dropped the ceremonial puck at a Los Angeles Kings game,
“The girls are just thrilled,” Skarupa said.
It was not a sure thing that her daughter would play on the Olympic team, “You never know for sure,” she said. “It became more evident the more times she was called to the national team.”
But her 24-year-old daughter was cut from the team in May of last year and then asked back in September. After that, she was sent home but was told to stay ready. It was not until right before Thanksgiving that Skarupa was an official member of the U.S. Olympic team.
Penny Skarupa spent two weeks at the Olympics watching her daughter take on the world’s best as a member of the U.S. Women’s Hockey team, culminating in a gold medal that was “spectacular. I was completely blown away by the whole thing.”
The family loved watching Sean White snowboard to gold. They also were in the audience for some figure skating events, the women’s halfpipe and men’s downhill skiing.
Her daughter also “was able to go to events. They really were able to experience the Olympics. It helped them decompress,” she said of daughter and teammates.
While in PyeongChang, the Skarupas recorded all the women’s ice hockey games, and are eager to watch them soon. Seeing a game live is different than being at home, listening to the commentators and viewing the camera close-ups, she said.
Dave Evans, who coached both Haley Skarupa and her older brother, Dylan, when they played for Wootton High School’s ice hockey team, watched the gold-medal game in the comfort of his Damascus home.
“I am so super happy for Haley,” he said.
Evans welcomed Skarupa onto the all-boys team when she was a high school freshman, and her brother was a senior. Being the only girl didn’t deter her one bit, and the boys took an instant liking to her, both because they liked her brother and she was so good, recalled Evans, who has coached Wootten’s team for 24 years.
“She kicked those boys’ asses on the training drills,” Evans said.
“She was incredible, probably our best skater.”
During drills, “She would just blow the boys out of the water,” often beating them by a full lap in sprints, he said, calling Skarupa’s “competitive drive and focus at that age unbelievable.”
Skarupa most recently played forward for the Connecticut Whale of the National Women’s Hockey League.
During the one year the Skarupa siblings played together, “she gave her brother grief, needling him in front of the guys” whenever he made a mistake, which was not often. Evans recalled. “Dylan was a really great player in his own right. I think Dylan fostered her love of the game.”
That high school team went on to win the 2013-2014 state championship, but Skarupa barely made it to the game.
While she was skating for Wootton, she also played with the Washington Pride, a premiere girls hockey league. Evans knew that her focus had to be with the Pride, but Skarupa never tried to get out of any of his practices although she had just worked out with her other team.
“She didn’t have to do it all for us, but she never asked out” if she didn’t have to, he said.
There was a Pride game the same day as the state championship, but that did not deter her, he recalled.
After finishing the Pride game, “she raced from rink to rink in her equipment. She missed most of the first period” but was able to join the team after that, said Evans.
Those memories flashed back to Evans last week as he stayed up late to watch the 2018 U.S. Women’s Olympic Team go for gold. The face off in South Korea didn’t start until 11 p.m. here.
“I watched, and I cried,” said the very proud coach. “I was so happy for her,” realizing that all her work and sacrifices had paid off.
It didn’t take anything away from her glory that the former Wootton player was a late addition to the Olympic team and only played a few minutes, he said.
“She had a shot on goal on her first shift. I was like, ‘Oh my God, Haley,’” Evans said. “
She’s an Olympic gold medal winner. When she’s 80 years old, she will be a former gold medal winner. It’s a life-defining thing.”
Not only did Evans stay awake for the whole game, he also watched the celebrations and the medal ceremony.
“I don’t think I fell asleep till four,” he said.
“She’s a magnificent skater and quick,” he said. But Evans said it takes more than great skating to reach the level she has. Skarupa combines natural ability with attention to detail, a strong work ethic and what he called “game intelligence.”
Players “have to be able to think the game fast enough, and Haley was always comfortable. She was a brilliant hockey player.”
After Wootton, the Rockville native skated at Boston College, where she helped the Eagles to only their second undefeated regular season in NCAA history and earned Second Team All-American honors and First Team Hockey East All-Star.
She started her college-playing years strong, earning the Hockey East Rookie of the Year and set a conference freshman scoring record her freshman year.
All the players at Boston College are great, “and she excelled,” said Evans.
Referring not just to the siblings he had coached, but also their parents, Evans declared, “They are really good people. It’s really good to see in this age of spoiled egos.”
Alexander Parker, Wootton’s assistant ice hockey coach, also shared a memory of Skarupa, although he never coached her. They are one year apart and faced each other during a Wootton-Quince Orchard game, when he was goalie.
“Back then, she was still one of the best players in the league – even as a freshman.”