The story of how the Maryland state flag crashed a U.S. Olympic women’s hockey team party 16 years in the making begins with Haley Skarupa and two very good friends.
Skarupa grew up in Rockville, and as her hockey career took her to rinks in the Washington area and then to Boston College and then South Korea for the Pyeongchang Games, her affinity for the Calvert and Crossland coats of arms never waned. “It’s awesome,” she said Saturday. “I love the flag. It’s great. It’s just so much cooler than all of the other ones.”
Imagine Skarupa’s surprise, then, after Monique Lamoureux scored in the third period of the final against Canada to force overtime, after Jocelyne Lamoureux reintroduced the world to “Oops, I Did It Again” with her gold-medal-winning penalty shootout deke for the ages, to see the Maryland flag at ice level inside Gangneung Ice Arena.
One friend had flown in for the game from Los Angeles, the other from Texas. Both hailed from Maryland, and they’d brought the iconic flag with them, mixing red, white, black and gold with red, white and blue.
“It was just so crazy to kind of bring a piece of home onto the ice with us,” Skarupa said Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium ahead of the Washington Capitals’ NHL Stadium Series game the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Skarupa played less than a minute in the final against the four-time defending champion Canadians, but it was hard to tell from the media horde that flocked to her in Annapolis, bypassing goalie Maddie Rooney, captain Meghan Duggan and the Lamoureux twins to ask the 24-year-old Wootton graduate about her radically altered life.
“It's awesome to come back here,” she said. “I knew I was going to come back to this and watch this game regardless with my family. My family and friends are here. It's awesome to be back here with my teammates and bring home a gold medal and kind of show it to my local family, friends, fans. It's awesome.”
That’s one way to describe her post-Pyeongchang world. On the long flight back from South Korea, she realized the magnitude of her team’s accomplishments: “Wow, we’re going back to the United States, bringing our country home a gold medal.” She could not adequately prepare for the “nonstop” adventures that have followed.
It had been one thing to travel to the NHL All-Star Game in Tampa, Fla., before the Winter Games and meet Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin, an icon nonpareil in her playing career. (“I idolized him when I was younger, wanted to do everything that he did, just watch him every single game,” she said.) Then she started to perhaps realize what such a luminary’s life must be like.
In Los Angeles, she was one of 23 U.S. players onstage the set of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” The next night, she was back on the ice, this time in Florida, dropping the ceremonial puck before the Tampa Bay Lighting’s game against the Buffalo Sabres.
But it was her time back home that she has treasured most. On Friday, over 200 girls registered for a hockey clinic she helped lead at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Va. When she met with members of the Washington Pride — a club in the Junior Women’s Hockey League she once dominated, twice earning top-player honors — she felt immediately transported.
“The sport has certainly come a long way in this area,” she said. “When I started playing, you play boys hockey until you're in high school or something. And now there's so many young girls teams in the area. … I think that's really exciting and I think there's still so much more to go, but to see how far it's come since I started playing is truly incredible.”
The nostalgia trip continued Saturday, when she visited Washington’s Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken, co-founded by former Capital and Potomac native Jeff Halpern. Then it was on to the monuments and memorials in D.C., Skarupa becoming something of a tour guide for players such as Rooney who never had been to the nation’s capital.
All the while, Skarupa kept finding herself running into her old life. High school classmates have reached out to her, as have elementary school buddies, and even further back. “I saw someone outside, and she’s like, ‘I went to preschool with you,’ and I was like, ‘What?’ ” she said, laughing.
At another point, she ran into a former Wootton history teacher. She wasn’t wearing the gold medal, but he recognized her just the same. He made small talk as if he were her biggest fan.
“He was like, 'I watched the whole tournament. Such a wild, final game,’ ” she said. “And it kind of hit me that, like, ‘Wow, so many people from home were following and watching.' And the support that we received from them was just unbelievable.”
Ten, 20 years from now, Skarupa might not make cut for the documentary revisiting why America fell madly in love with her team. But she might have provided the soundtrack to their success. None other than Skarupa was the team’s unofficial DJ.
Before each game, she blasted “All Night Longer” by hip-hop artist Sammy Adams. During the second intermission in the final against Canada, the U.S. trailed by a goal. The team was confident, Monique Lamoureux recalled, but it perhaps needed a reminder that the next 20 minutes weren’t unlike any other they had played. So, on cue, 10 minutes before the team returned to the ice, Skarupa started to play her tunes. The rest is history.
“She did her job on the ice,” Rooney said. “I thought she was great for our team, but she was also great in the locker room off the ice.”
Said Lamoureux: “I think if you were to ask anybody on our team, if you asked them about Haley, you'd get an immediate smile on their face.”