Last season, Noora Raty said she had a lot of unfinished business.
She’d played in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games for her native Finland, winning a bronze medal in Vancouver, but claimed she hadn’t “won anything big” such as a national championship or Olympic gold.
The junior goaltender said she didn’t want to leave the University of Minnesota without an NCAA title.
Then Raty and her teammates got on a roll in the postseason and won the NCAA women’s hockey championship in March at the Frozen Four in Duluth, Minn. After a 4-2 win over Wisconsin in the championship game — in which Raty stopped 42 shots — the Gophers swarmed the ice in a wild celebration.
Raty, named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, was at the bottom of the icy dog pile.
“I don’t know if I could even breathe under there, but I was just so happy that we finally got that championship,” she said.
Now she can relax, right? Mission accomplished?
Not a chance. One championship was fine. Two would be divine.
“Oh, definitely we want to repeat this year,” she said. “I always set my goals high, and one of my goals this year is another national championship. It’s really hard to go back-to-back, and we’ll see if we can do it this year.”
There’s still a lot of hockey to be played, but there’s no doubt the Gophers have the talent to do it. They’re undefeated at 24-0, ranked No. 1 in the nation and have a 32-game winning streak, which ties the NCAA record previously held solely by Wisconsin.
Raty, meanwhile, believes she’s playing perhaps better than she ever has before — which is saying something, considering what she’s accomplished previously.
She’s a two-time All-American and was a top-three finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award (given to the nation’s best player) her freshman season. She also was nominated for the award last season and was a top-10 finalist her sophomore year.
This season, she’s 22-0-0 and has a nation-leading nine shutouts after Saturday’s 6-0 victory over Minnesota State. Raty is No. 2 in the country in save percentage (.956) and is third in goals-against average (0.94).
With 98 career wins, she’s only two wins from tying the NCAA record for career wins set by Hillary Pattenden of Mercyhurst and needs just four shutouts to tie the career record of 35.
Though she led the nation in shutouts and GAA last season, she was disappointed in her level of play.
When the postseason began, however, something clicked. She allowed just one goal in her first playoff game, then a shutout in her second. She went 7-0 in the run to the championship with three shutouts. In the final period of the championship game, she stopped 20 shots as Wisconsin pulled its goalie and threw everything it could at Raty and her teammates.
After the game, Raty’s coach, Brad Frost, told reporters: “She’s been on a run in the last month that’s been as good as any goalie has ever been on.”
Raty said her confidence grew after her first couple of games in the postseason.
“I had a lot to prove last year,” she said. “My freshman and sophomore years, I didn’t play my best at the end of the year, so last year I was kind of like, ‘OK, I don’t care how I played in the regular season as long as I play well in the end of the season.’ ”
This year, Raty has stayed locked in.
She believes one reason might be because she stayed at Minnesota for most of the summer and put in a lot more time on the ice than in the past. She also thinks working with goaltending coach Andy Kent has made her sharper. She believes he’s helped her reign in her aggressiveness — “I used to be all over the ice,” she says — and better control rebounds.
“I think I played better this fall than how I played last March,” she said.
Even though she feels as if every team the Gophers play is now amped up to beat them as defending champions, Minnesota has so far beaten back every challenge. She says the defense is playing extremely well in front of her, with group of tall, strong defenders “really good at blocking shots.”
“I was honestly expecting us to struggle a little bit at the beginning of the year, but then we just got on a roll,” she said.
Now she has her eyes on another icy celebration and perhaps getting her name in the NCAA record book a few times. She doesn’t pretend not to know about the marks for victories and shutouts that are within her reach now. People constantly remind her.
“Someone told me about that before the season started,” she said. “And then I felt like, ‘OK, we’ll see how this season goes.’ ”
So far, so good.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.