Haley Skarupa’s hockey career has come full circle.
Skarupa grew up in Rockville, Maryland, and fell in love with hockey while rooting for her hometown Washington Capitals. Skarupa went on to star at Boston College and won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Now, she’s coming back home.
Last month, the Capitals named Skarupa as the team’s Hockey Ambassador. The former Olympian will assist with the Capitals’ efforts to develop and engage with the youth and girls hockey community across Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
“It means a lot and obviously it’s quite an honor, especially being from the area, growing up and playing hockey since I was 5, through high school,” Skarupa said. “To come back and have a chance to be an ambassador and represent the Capitals is obviously pretty special. I’m super excited to start with the Capitals, it’s a great opportunity, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Skarupa will work with the Capitals’ youth hockey department and drive growth across the sport. She is also tasked with establishing additional female programming that encompasses street hockey and on-ice sessions. In addition, Skarupa will work to enhance the Capitals’ existing initiatives across youth and high school hockey, while also serving as the team’s core liaison with USA Hockey.
“We are excited to welcome Haley as our new Hockey Ambassador to our organization,” said Ted Leonsis, the founder, chairman, principal partner and CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment. “Her talent on the ice and her dedication to engaging participants in the sport make her 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.”
The Capitals will celebrate the upcoming IIHF World Girls’ Hockey Weekend on Saturday with two free clinics hosted by Skarupa. The clinics will take place at the MedStar Capitals Iceplex and they’re open to female hockey players, ages 8-18.
“We went through a lot to be able to earn the gold medal and it was a dream for us,” Skarupa said. “Now, the most rewarding and special part of the whole experience is to share it with the next generation, let them hold our medal, meet us, and coach them in a clinic, so they can have that dream, too and aspire to do the same things that we did.”
Skarupa, who has a degree in psychology from Boston College, initially interned with the Capitals after her junior year of college. She worked in the Capitals’ office and with the public, hosting different recreational hockey camps, in addition to scrimmages and tournaments, while also introducing newcomers the basics of the sport like how to hold a hockey stick.
“That gave me a lot of experience moving forward throughout college, doing clinics, and camps, which kind of set the foundation,” Skarupa said.
After college, Skarupa served as director of the Boston Junior Whalers, coaching youth hockey players in premier and select tournaments. She has also instructed kids in clinics, camps and private skill sessions throughout the New England region and internationally.
That experience helped set the stage for Skarupa’s return to her hometown team.
“It all kind of started when I was interning for the Capitals,” said Skarupa, who also did broadcasting work during the Capitals’ Stanley Cup run in 2017-18. “I stayed in touch and came back during the holidays and when I had free time to help. We kept the relationship going and we figured it was a great opportunity for each other. We saw it would be a great fit, and that’s when it came to fruition.”
Now, Skarupa is helping to grow the next generation.
There has been significant growth in youth participation in the D.C. area, increasing to 22,144 players, coaches and officials in the last five seasons. Since Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin was drafted No. 1 overall in 2004, youth participation has increased by 221% with approximately 40 ice facilities currently and 53 sheets of ice.
Skarupa conducted a youth clinic at the MedStar Capitals Iceplex in correlation with the Capitals’ Stadium Series game against Toronto in Annapolis, Maryland.
“I never saw so many girls skating in that arena,” Skarupa said. “It’s incredible to see how many girls programs there are now, especially in this area. A lot of us had to play youth hockey with boys to start because there weren’t as many opportunities for girls, but now there are multiple programs. Every time I come back, there are so many more opportunities and programs for kids and girls. It’s a testament to their efforts across the board and how far the sport has come.”
It’s also a testament to the current state of the women’s game following the 2018 Olympic gold medal win, as NHL teams have partnered with many of Skarupa’s teammates in similar ambassador roles or broadcast positions.
“It’s awesome that we have the support of the NHL and these organizations who believe in us and know that we can make a difference for their teams and programs,” Skarupa said. “It’s obviously an honor, and we’re really excited to have these opportunities. It goes to show how far we’ve come that these teams know our value and they’re ready for us to hop on board and make an impact.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.