Noora Raty already has experienced a lifetime of hockey achievements.
At age 22, the University of Minnesota junior goaltender has twice played in the Olympic Winter Games for her native Finland, first as a 15-year-old in Torino in 2006 and then four years later in Vancouver when she and her teammates won a bronze medal.
Twice she has been named Finland’s best female player, in 2007 and 2008.
In the 2008 International Ice Hockey Federation World Women’s Championship, she made 30 saves in shutting out the U.S. 1-0 in what she calls the game of her life.
And at Minnesota, she’s been a record-setting rock of defensive consistency for the Gophers, a two-time All-American who has the school record for career shutouts (23).
As much as Raty is proud of all those achievements, however, she’s not satisfied.
She has yet to win a major championship, and she won’t feel complete until she fills that hole on her hockey resume.
“It’s been a great journey, but still there’s a lot of hockey to play in the future and I haven’t won anything big,” she said. “I have a lot of dreams I want to achieve, like win a national championship and play in the final in the Olympics.”
Winning the bronze medal at Vancouver was the biggest thrill of her life, “But I still want to win something even bigger,” she said.
This year, Raty and her Gophers have a chance.
Minnesota has shown it can beat any team. The Gophers split an early series with rival Wisconsin at Madison before halving two games at Minnesota in January. In the first January meeting, Minnesota tied the No. 1 Badgers 3-3 in overtime but lost a shootout. The next day, Minnesota came back with a win.
In that 1-0 victory, Raty stopped 32 shots, including several late in the game that were described by one reporter as “phenomenal.” It was the first time the Badgers had been shut out since 2010.
Raty called it “a huge win for us” and believes it’s an indication of what she and her teammates can do.
“We’d be extremely disappointed if we don’t make it to the Frozen Four,” Raty said. “I feel like we have the best team here for many years, so that’s definitely our goal.”
The shutout of Wisconsin was the fourth of the season and 20th of her career, but she’s had three more since, including back-to-back shutouts against St. Cloud State and Ohio State this month.
Raty’s play in goal has been something the Gophers have come to rely on since she came to Minnesota from her home in Espoo, Finland, three years ago.
As a freshman in 2009-10, she was 18-4-4 as Minnesota reached the semifinals of the Frozen Four. Raty was chosen a first-team All-American and a top three finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award, given to the top player in women’s college hockey. She had a 1.33 goals-against average and a .948 save percentage despite missing part of the season to play for Finland in Vancouver.
As a sophomore, Raty set a school record for wins in a season, finishing 25-8-2 and was a second-team All-America pick.
This season, she’s fourth in the NCAA in goals-against average (1.48), is tied for second in the nation in shutouts with seven and is 26-5-2.
“She’s the backbone of our team,” Gophers coach Brad Frost said of Raty earlier this season. “She’s definitely proved that she’s the best goalie in the history of the program.”
Raty, however, believes she could be playing better. She calls 2011-12 an “up-and-down” season where she’s had some terrific games and some disappointing ones.
It could be just the grind of a long season in a tough conference where there are no easy opponents. It could also be a bit of homesickness.
Raty, who hasn’t been home since last summer, knows she won’t get back to Finland until school ends in May. Though she feels comfortable in Minnesota, she says she’s definitely missing home right now.
Fortunately, there’s Skype.
“It helps a lot,” she said. “It’s awesome to hear my mom’s voice and my dad’s voice.”
It was her father, who was coaching her brother’s team, who first started her in hockey. At about age 3, she wanted on the ice, too.
And even then she wanted to be a goaltender.
“Because they have this cool gear,” she says, laughing. “That was my favorite part of hockey when I was younger, the goalie gear.”
That, and the fact she could play the whole game in the net. She didn’t like coming off the ice.
Since coming to the United States, where she gets a steady diet of play against the best offensive players in the world (from the U.S., Canada and Europe), she said her game has improved “100 percent.”
Facing players such as teammate Amanda Kessel in practice every day, and players in her own Western Collegiate Hockey Association such as Jocelyne Lamoureux and Monique Lamoureux-Kolls of North Dakota, and Hilary Knight and Brianna Decker of Wisconsin, have elevated her own game.
But she knows much of her performance in goal is mental. She has to constantly stay sharp. There can’t be any lapses. A mistake means a goal and a goal may mean defeat.
It’s the mental game where she says she needs to continue to improve and achieve more consistency.
“I think right now I have the skill I need, so it’s all mental with me,” she said. “I feel like I have the skill but sometimes my head isn’t there.”
But as the postseason approaches, she’s hoping she can come up big.
“What separates the good from the great is how you play in big games,” she said.
With the WCHA and NCAA tournaments ahead, she’ll have plenty of opportunities.