At elite level sport, margins are always fine.
But none will have been much closer than in the women’s Olympic ice hockey. There was not a puck’s width difference between the USA and Canada.
The two heavyweight adversaries, who know all each others’ strengths and weaknesses, traded blows for a gruelling eighty minutes.
Still there was nothing to choose between them.
A penalty shootout is the most nerve-shredding moment in sport.
And yet, right before the final drama unfolded, there was a striking image.
Maddie Rooney, the USA’s rookie goaltender, smiling and laughing with her team mates.
Where was the tension?
Sometimes it’s the little things that make the difference.
Ignorance is bliss
Rooney was just seven months old when the USA last captured Olympic gold at Nagano ’98.
Maybe it was the virtue of youth that made her appear so nerveless in the final, able to brush off the weight of history with a smile.
After all, ignorance, as they say, is bliss.
But Rooney will have been all too aware of the anguish suffered by the older hands on her team; coming so near and yet so far, thwarted by Canada in their last three finals.
Perhaps instead it was the role played by her coach Robb Stauber.
There aren’t too many coaches out there who are former NHL goaltenders. But Stauber is one of them.
Who better to get into the mind of a goalie than a goalie?
Rooney herself was quick to pay tribute to the ex-LA Kings player when the Olympic Channel spoke to her at a pre-Games training camp.
“He’s really involved with us goalies,” Rooney enthused, “He puts in a lot of time with us in practice.”
“He’s really knowledgeable and he’s great to look up to.”
Now they are looking up to Rooney.
Already, her Wikipedia page was briefly updated to give her the job title of ‘United States Secretary of Defense’.
— Ari Gilberg (@arigilberg) February 22, 2018
After her heroics at the Gangneung Hockey Centre, Rooney was asked about her shootout smile.
“I was confident in my team. I knew we had it,” Rooney said.
So does she ever get nervous?
“I have been told that it is important to stay calm. I am sure there have been times but pressure is power.”
No one can question Rooney’s authority.
She made 29 saves through overtime before repelling four shots in the penalty shootout.
The last block from Meghan Agosta sealed a 3-2 win and ended the USA’s long wait for gold.
And all with a smile.