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They started out as teammates, two young goaltenders selected for the U.S. women's national team in 2017. Before long, Maddie Rooney and Nicole Hensley became true friends: rooming together at events and camps, training together in Minnesota, supporting each other through the glory and the grind.

Both attended the inaugural draft of the Professional Women's Hockey League last fall, expecting to hear their names called. Hensley was chosen by PWHL Minnesota in the second round. Rooney was passed over entirely, a decision her pal called "stupid" and "absolutely insane."

That snub soon paved the way for an unexpected reunion. Minnesota signed Rooney as a free agent, bringing the team a powerful goaltending pair that helped it reach the Walter Cup finals against Boston.

Hensley is the likely starter in Friday's Game 3 at Xcel Energy Center. She shut out Boston 3-0 on Tuesday, evening the best-of-five series at one game each. Rooney earned two shutouts in the semifinals against top-seeded Toronto and stopped 65 of 66 shots in three wins that sent Minnesota to the finals.

"We figured going into this year, we would finally be split up," said Hensley, a Colorado native who moved to the Twin Cities in 2020. "But fate had it that we would not be. We couldn't have asked for a better setup."

That twist of fate wasn't easy for Rooney to stomach at the time. The Andover native and former Minnesota Duluth goalie said it was a low point in her career to be overlooked at the draft.

Minnesota general manager Natalie Darwitz invited Rooney to training camp, then signed her. Rooney shut out Montreal in Minnesota's home opener and ranked fourth among PWHL goalies with a 2.08 goals-against average in the regular season. Hensley finished right behind her, with a GAA of 2.19.

Hensley had a 7-6-1 record in the regular season, while Rooney was 5-3-2.

Minnesota coach Ken Klee considers his goaltenders equals, referring to them as 1A and 1B. He said that situation is rare, and it's even more rare to have a pair of top goalies that support each other as they willingly share the duties.

"They're both [number] ones," Klee said. "People said, 'Is that going to be a problem?' It's not, because they embrace it. So I've let them roll with it all year. Like one of them said, they have a unique, special relationship."

That relationship developed on the U.S. national team. Hensley and Rooney were teammates at two Olympics, winning gold in 2018 — with Rooney in a starring role — and silver in 2022. They also played together at two world championships and other international events.

Goaltending can be a stressful, lonely position, and their shared experience helped the two bond quickly. Hensley described Rooney as unflappable, able to instantly move on when something goes wrong. Rooney said Hensley is solid and consistent, even in challenging times.

They grew closer when Hensley moved to Minnesota four years ago to train with Rooney and other members of the national team. Off the ice, they hang out, walk their dogs, go for ice cream and spend time at Rooney's cabin. On it, they share information and ideas and help prepare each other for starts.

"To be able to have a good relationship with someone who's in the same position as you, it definitely makes the job easier," Rooney said. "You look over on the bench and you have support, versus a rivalry. We're both really competitive people. But I think we push each other to get better."

After the season ends, the two buddies will vacation together in Mexico. They hope to make that trip a celebration of a Walter Cup title, made possible through their teamwork.

"It's a unique thing," Klee said. "It works for them, which is great for us."