Photo By Troy Parla
Haley Skarupa’s journey to an Olympic Gold Medal in South Korea was a little different than that of her teammates, but now that it’s all over you can bet she wouldn’t change a thing. And why would she? She’s an Olympic champion and is an inspiration for young girls all over, and especially in her home turf in Maryland.
On November 27 the 24-year-old was brought back into the USA Hockey Women’s National Team Residency Program after appearing in four NWHL games with the Boston Pride (2g-3a, 30 SoG). She was cut from the group vying for spots on the team last March and during a summer of reflection, she considered giving up playing hockey. But her love for the game was eventually reignited and she signed with the Pride after a 22-point rookie season (11g-11a) with the Connecticut Whale.
Photo By Troy Parla
“Obviously it was not the result that I was working towards all of last year, and it was crazy that an opportunity opened up. The NWHL allowed me to keep playing and helped me train regardless,” Skarupa told me. “I didn’t know that I was going to get called back. The fact that I was playing helped my transition (back to Team USA) for sure. It was awesome playing with the Boston Pride with so many good teammates and coaches, it was a lot of fun. It was a good experience and it was sad leaving them, but they’ve done pretty well since (I left).”
Now that she has returned to the States with a gold medal it appears that she’s ready to continue playing professionally. “For next year, it’s a great league and I want to see it grow and do great things, so going back to play with those teammates is something so fun that you are always looking forward to,” the Rockville, Maryland native said. “Whatever team I play for - who knows, but there are fun, good players on every team. So I’m looking forward to that (coming back) regardless.”
The entire team has been on a victory lap around the country with stops in LA, Tampa, NYC, New Jersey, and one that had a little extra special meaning for the 2018 gold medalist. “Going back to DC for the Stadium Series was awesome because I’m from that area,” said a smiling Skarupa. “So I was able to see so many friends and family from home who I haven’t seen in so long; especially since before the Olympics. Seeing how excited they were was awesome as was just seeing them in general.”
Photo By Troy Parla
“We were walking back from breakfast that morning and I ran into one of my high school teachers and he said ‘I watched the whole tournament! It was awesome! What a wild final game!’ So that was cool.”
When the team was introduced one-by-one to the outdoor crowd at the Naval Academy the NBC cameras showed a close up of each player who either waved to the crowd or said something into the camera. When Skarupa was introduced she smiled, waved gave the double thumbs up and said: "LET’S GO CAPS!"
“I was very into that Stadium Series game! I was going to go to that game regardless,” she told me with a grin, “so it was cool that we were there with our gold medals as a team. I can’t even put words to how that felt.” That was just one of many moments that Skarupa and all of her teammates have enjoyed the past 10 days as gold medalists.
“We met Venus and Serena Williams last night and that was so cool because I’ve looked up to them basically my whole life,” she excitedly revealed. “Before the Olympics, the NHL All-Star Game was in Tampa and I met Alex Ovechkin, who’s one of my favorite players and that’s probably my favorite person that I’ve met so far.”
Since touching down in LA the Golden Girls have been on tv, been to multiple sporting events, they’ve signed countless autographs and posed for a gazillion pictures. But all of that attention is so well deserved for a great group of inspirational and strong women. For Skarupa, she’s truly enjoying every single moment because after all - at this time last year her dream was being crushed.
Photo By Michelle Jay
“We went from Korea to LA to Tampa to DC and now we’re here (NJ/NYC), and yeah it’s been wild,” Skarupa exclaimed before her and her teammates were being honored at a New Jersey Devils home game. “The amount of excitement we’ve gotten from so many people has been amazing. It has really helped grow the sport and we’re so happy to see that, how far women’s hockey has come and how everyone was so excited to watch the (gold medal) game and keep talking about it. That’s what we’re most excited about this whole tour. Obviously, the events are great and we love going to games, meeting new people, but the great respect and reception we’ve gotten is good and I think my favorite part.”
The lone Devils representative at the All-Star Game in Tampa was Massachusetts-born Brian Boyle, who spoke with them a bit in Florida and was stoked to congratulate the 11 members of Team USA that were in attendance. “It was great to be able to meet them and shake their hands, to congratulate them,” Brian Boyle would say after the Devils 6-4 win. “We were watching and cheering for them.”
“The hockey world is a pretty small world and what they’ve been able to do - even since ’98 - all of the World Championships they’ve won, they’ve produced some tremendous talent, great players, and there have been some fantastic games between them and Canada.”
“You hope the sport grows,” Boyle added. “I have a daughter and if she wanted to play hockey I’d be thrilled. They’re great role models and I’m happy for them.”
The game in New Jersey was the last stop on the tour as a full team as players would begin dispersing back to their homes for the first time in months. So are you excited to sleep in your own bed for the first time in a long tome Haley?
“I am, yes,” she said laughing and smiling. “(But) it’s going to be sad, I know I want to cherish all of these moments because I know how much I’m going to miss everyone when we go back (home). But I am looking forward to going home and chillin’ for a little bit, and sleeping in my own bed for sure.”