The recruiting parameters of the University of Minnesota women’s hockey team usually have been modest, and local. They recruit the state of Minnesota hard and then plug in a few out-of-state Americans, plus Canadians.
But until the early signing period this fall, the Gophers never signed a single European player. So how did second-year Coach Brad Frost land two members of the Finnish national team among his four signees?
A connection, and a little luck.
Goalie Noora Raty, who started in the 2006 Olympics as a 15-year-old, and defenseman Mira Jalosuo once attended a hockey camp with former Gophers captain Bobbi Ross, Frost said. When Raty and Jalosuo decided to come to America for college, they did their homework, contacting people they knew for suggestions. They emailed Ross, and she let Frost know about it.
“Bobbi didn’t really do anything except forward their emails to me,” Frost said.
Raty’s interest floored Frost. A rising international star, Raty followed up her precocious Olympic debut by winning the most valuable player award at the 2008 world championships. The Finns took the bronze medal behind Raty, who handed eventual champion Team USA its only loss of the tournament, 1-0 in overtime in the qualifying round. Natalie Darwitz, now a Gophers assistant coach, played in that game and provided Frost a detailed assessment of Raty, who made 30 saves, and Jalosuo.
The Finns narrowed their choices down to the Gophers; Minnesota-Duluth (which has two Finnish Olympians, Saara Tuominen and Heidi Pelttari, on its roster) and Ohio State (where Team Finland captain and three-time Olympian Emma Laaksonen starred from 2000-04). The Buckeyes, who retired Laaksonen’s No. 3 last month, recruited and signed Minnamari (Mintuu) Tuominen from Laaksonen’s hometown of Espoo, Finland.
But after recruiting visits to the three schools, Raty and Jalosuo chose the Gophers. “Out of all the schools I visited, I felt Minnesota was definitely right for me,” Räty said in a statement released by the school. “I was very impressed with the coaching staff and hockey program, the players and all of the U of M facilities. It is an honor to be the first European hockey player in such a strong hockey tradition. My dream is to win the NCAA championship and I feel that becoming a Gopher will enable to pursue my dreams.”
Jalosuo, at 6-0, provides size and a booming shot from the point. Junior Alexandra Zebro is the only Gopher as tall as Jalosuo. The recruiting class also includes forward Becky Kortum of Minnetonka and Hopkins High, the top goal-scorer in the Classic Lake conference the last two seasons, and defenseman Megan Bozek of Buffalo Grove, Ill.
Raty’s arrival, however, presents a dilemma for Frost. He already has two talented young goalies in sophomore Jenny Lura and freshman Alyssa Grogan, who played so well in the second-ranked Gophers’ 11-2-1 start that they pushed senior Kim Hanlon out of the rotation. Minnesota faces ninth-ranked Harvard at Ridder Arena at 6 p.m. Friday and at 4 p.m. Saturday. Presumably, Raty isn’t flying more than 4,000 miles to sit. Frost said he’ll throw open the competition and let the candidates earn their playing time.
“When one of the best goalies in the world is interested in your school, you obviously don’t want to turn them away,” Frost said. “When it comes to goaltending, you can never be too deep. They’ll battle it out next year.”