Remember when you were 16 years old and learning to drive was your biggest concern? Well, at 16, Maria Rooth was already a member of Sweden’s national hockey team, and driving to the net was her main goal. And nothing would get in her way.
Now 27, Rooth is an assistant captain for Team Sweden at the 2007 IIHF World Women’s Championship. She credits her start in hockey to her family, who lived just footsteps away from a rink, and she’s now one of the most experienced players on the Swedish team with 193 games under her belt.
Growing up, she was a big hockey fan, and it’s not surprising that her imagination was captured by “The Great One.”
“I grew up when Wayne Gretzky was the biggest star, and he still is someone who I really really look up to,” said Rooth. “But I didn’t really have any female idols to look up to. It was mostly male hockey players.”
Rooth joined Team Sweden in 1996, playing her first-ever game in the European Championship. She didn’t find the scoresheet at that time, but less than a year later, she proved that she was a force to be reckoned with, bagging two goals and three assists in five games at the 1997 IIHF World Women’s Championship.
Her vast hockey resume has only gotten more impressive since then, as the 5-9 forward has now played for seven World Championship teams, seven Four Nations Cup teams, and two Olympic teams. Rooth, who’s played more national team games than all but two of her teammates, currently finds herself in a leadership role in the locker room, passing her knowledge and experience along to some of Tre Kronor’s younger members.
“I try to get them to feel relaxed and comfortable and not have to stress so much on the ice. And since we have such a young team, a couple are new to these tournaments, and just relaxing them a little bit is what we have to do.”
Before Rooth was even a blip on Sweden’s national team radar, she was playing junior women’s hockey alongside current Team Sweden captain Erika Holst. Currently one of the most feared offensive duos in women’s hockey, Rooth and Holst have had many years to perfect their on-ice chemistry. Their incredible play together was especially evident in 2004--06 for Malarhojden/Bredang, as they combined for 28 goals and 26 assists in back-to-back Swedish championships.
“We started playing in 1993, playing on the girls’ team actually, so I think just after so many years you get to know the other person on the ice a lot more,” said Rooth. “And both on and off the ice we are best buds, and that kind of translates onto the ice, because you just know where she’s at. She’s an amazing passer. She’s always working 100 percent every shift, every game. I think a lot of her attitude is great and has helped me too.”
Although her name isn’t quite as well known as Hayley Wickenheiser’s or Krissy Wendell’s, North American
fans of women’s hockey remember Rooth for her determined effort in the semi-final game of the 2006 Olympics
in Turin. Trailing 2-0 versus the Americans midway through the second period, Rooth broke loose and scored
two goals in just over three minutes, the second one shorthanded, to force overtime and an eventual shootout.
Rooth then scored the clinching shootout goal as Team Sweden upset the favoured Americans
“Yeah, that was a great game,” said Rooth. “I’ve probably played better games in my life, but that was when I got the most out of it. I didn’t have too many shots in that game and I put a couple of them in, so in that way, yeah, it was for sure one of my best games.”
The Angelholm, Sweden native finished with five goals and four assists at the ’06 Olympics, good for fourth overall in points. That total also tied for her for the status of highest non-Canadian player, and it was the highest among European players. She was named one of the tournament’s top forwards.
Sweden will be gunning for their second win of the 2007 IIHF World Women’s Championship Thursday night against Team Finland. Despite looking impressive in their 3-2 opening game win over Team Russia, Sweden still has room for improvement, according to Rooth.
“We have to improve on keeping the puck a little bit more. We’ve been stressing, so we need to calm down a little bit. It’s a young team and we want to win so much that sometimes we get too eager almost to get rid of the puck to someone else. So we’re going to try to move the puck better against Finland.”