Olympic gold-medal winner and Rockville native Haley Skarupa is returning to her hometown roots by taking a job as the Washington Capital’s hockey ambassador.
The Capitals announced on Monday that Skarupa, 25, would become the team’s hockey ambassador.
It’s a full-time role that involves working with youth hockey clinics around the Washington region and increasing girls hockey programming. She also will create relationships with the amateur hockey association USA Hockey, an amateur association.
Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said in a statement that Skarupa is a “terrific role model for aspiring athletes.”
“Over the past several years, we have seen a tremendous increase in youth hockey participation across the area and we believe her addition will continue to spur growth among young participants,” he said.
Skarupa is a 2012 graduate of Thomas S. Wootton High School and the daughter of Penny Skarupa, an advertising account executive with Bethesda Magazine.
Haley Skarupa helped lead the U.S. women’s hockey team to a gold medal at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. She has also won three gold models with the U.S. national team during the International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championships.
She has played in the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) the past three seasons, most recently with the Boston Pride.
Skarupa said in an interview Wednesday that she has been in discussions with the Capitals since last year’s Olympics about taking on a role with the team. She said she interned with the team’s community relations department when she was in college and has conducted youth hockey events in the community.
According to the Capitals’ website, there are about 40 ice facilities for youth hockey in the region and participation over the past five seasons has increased to 22,144 players, coaches and officials.
Skarupa, who started playing roller hockey when she was 5, said the youth hockey landscape has changed dramatically in the past two decades.
“It’s exploded. It’s literally night and day,” she said. “I started playing boys hockey, and now there are so many programs for girls. It’s really exciting.”
Skarupa said being the only girl on a boys team has its challenges.
“When I was younger, you have half the boys who want to respect you and be your friend and half of them who want to go after the girl,” she said.
Skarupa attributes the rise in youth participation partly to the popularity of star player Alex Ovechkin, who led the Capitals to the 2018 Stanley Cup championship and will soon enter his 15th season with the team.
“I also think it’s how the sport has caught on,” she said. “That’s how it starts from the grassroots level.”
Skarupa is moving from Boston back to Washington and said she will start the job next week.
She isn’t sure yet of her schedule, but said she thinks it will include working with the Capitals’ Learn to Play initiative, in which former hockey players teach and coach children. She hopes the team will add a girls-specific Learn to Play program.
Skarupa said her approach to mentoring younger hockey players is to make sure they’re having fun and not getting burnt out.
“For me, it’s that they’re enjoying their experience, and they’re having fun. They’ll be passionate about hockey if they’re having fun. It’s not always about being perfect, especially when you’re younger. I learned that through my experience,” she said. “The main thing is that they make friends and have memories they can laugh and smile about.”
Skarupa said she will still play hockey occasionally during the year by participating in events with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, but it will be less frequent than her previous schedule with the NWHL.
As for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, she hasn’t made a decision yet.
“I’m kind of taking it one step at a time. You can’t really predict. It’s a long journey,” she said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.email@example.com