Haley Skarupa: From thin ice to center ice

Editor’s Note: This is the final story in a four-part series highlighting local athletes who will represent Team USA in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. Find the previous stories below. 

WASHINGTON — Haley Skarupa has won a lot of hockey games in Boston. So, it’s apropos that New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s words apply directly to her:

“A lot of people have their big dreams and get knocked down and don’t have things go their way. And you never give up hope, and you really just hold on to it. Hard work and perseverance. You just keep getting up and getting up, and then you get that breakthrough.” — Robert Kraft

Skarupa barely made it on the U.S. women’s Olympic hockey team. Despite being a member of Team USA’s three straight World Championships (2015-17), she lasted just a month into the selection camp in April and was a late re-addition to the roster in November. But Skarupa made the final 23-player roster and will likely play wing on the third or fourth line for the U.S. Women’s team in the 2018 Winter Games.

Skarupa, a Rockville, Maryland, native who graduated from Wootton High School, is used to scrapping for ice time.

“When I started out playing hockey in Maryland, there weren’t a ton of opportunities, so I started playing with the boys,” she told WTOP. “But as I got older, so many more opportunities opened up and I was able to play for the Washington Pride (a Junior Women’s Hockey League team) for four years in high school, which prepared me so much for college and for international experience.”

If that nugget about training with boys sounds familiar, it should. Bethesda native Katie Ledecky did the same to build the foundation of her 14 World Championship, five-time Olympic gold medal swimming career.

“It was so crazy and inspiring, and, even though I don’t know her personally, it’s an amazing story,” Skarupa said. “So it definitely helps for athletes (in the D.C. area) that it’s always a possibility if you just put your mind to it and put in the work.”

Skarupa has been a part of winning programs at every level. She played collegiate hockey at Boston College where, as a senior, she helped the women’s hockey team to just the second undefeated season in NCAA history. After leaving BC as the second-highest scorer — man or woman — Skarupa was selected ninth overall by the New York Riveters in the 2015 NWHL Draft.

After a stint with the Connecticut Whale, Skarupa’s NWHL career brought her back to Beantown, where she plays for the Boston Pride. It’s a fitting landing spot for the 24-year-old Skarupa, not just because of the names of her high school and college teams but because it’s a good description of how she feels about heading to her first Winter Games.

“It’s an incredible honor,” Skarupa said. “It’s obviously a different stage than the world championships (with) very similar competition but different stakes. So we know that going into it, we’ve prepared for that and we’re really excited for what’s to come in Korea.”

Haley Skarupa #11 of United States tries to get around Emily Clark #26 of Canada during the second period at the 2017 IIHF Womans World Championships at USA Hockey Arena on March 31, 2017 in Plymouth, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

USA and Canada are the front-runners for the gold medal, which would be the latest chapter in their revered rivalry. Canada won all four meetings between the two teams in December, but that came after the U.S. took three of the previous four meetings.

“Obviously, the rivalry is huge and it’s always very back and forth and we’ve always been the two powerhouses,” Skarupa said. “We’ll take it one game at a time and see who we end up facing … it’s been like that in the past, so we’ve been preparing for different opportunities, but obviously (it’s) very exciting when we get to face Canada.”

The U.S. women’s hockey team hasn’t won gold in the Winter Games since its inaugural year in 1998. Skarupa likes this team’s chances to end the 20-year drought.

“Definitely,” Skarupa said. “That’s what we’ve been preparing for … it would be so special for women’s hockey — for our country — if we came back with the gold medal.”

Skarupa will have plenty of help in her quest for gold. She has multiple teammates from her Boston College days and she said it’s a very tight-knit group.

“A lot of the veterans have been really great helping us rookies sort of adjust and figure out what we need,” Skarupa said. “They said it’s a whole different experience in the Olympics, and you have to soak in every single moment … I’m very grateful for the experience and I’m really excited for what’s to come.”

Skarupa added that hockey has been the focus, not the geopolitical factors that exist in South Korea.

“I’m sure it’s in some people’s minds here and there, but there will be great security (in Pyeongchang),” Skarupa said. “They’ve been preparing for everything as well, so we’re going there to take care of our job.”

Haley Skarupa and the U.S. women’s hockey team begin playing Sunday, Feb. 11 against Finland.

Rob Woodfork

Rob Woodfork is WTOP's Senior Sports Content Producer, which includes duties as producer and host of the DC Sports Huddle, nightside sports anchor and sports columnist on WTOP.com.

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