Räty helps young goalies develop

Amanda Leveille and Shyler Sletta back up the Gophers’ star goalie.

Minnesota goalie Noora Raty watches the puck during a game against Minnesota Stateon Nov. 17, 2012 at Ridder Arena.

Ichigo Takikawa

Minnesota goalie Noora Raty watches the puck during a game against Minnesota Stateon Nov. 17, 2012 at Ridder Arena.

by Betsy Helfand

Many college hockey coaches — such as Gophers men’s coach Don Lucia — have spent the early part of this season trying out multiple goaltenders for the starting spot.

Brad Frost, the head coach of the top-ranked Gophers women’s team, has had his starter set since day one.

Frost has repeatedly said he thinks senior Noora Räty is one of the best — if not the best — goalies in the world.

Räty competed in the 2006 and 2010 Olympics for Finland, winning a bronze medal in 2010.

In spring 2012 with the Gophers, Räty won a national championship, and in the fall, she set a record for most games won at Minnesota. She’s also in position to eclipse the NCAA wins record.

She has allowed eight goals in 13 games, good for a 0.67 goals-against average. Her .967 save percentage leads the nation.

There’s a lot to learn from a player of that stature.

“Anytime you have one of the best goalies in the world in front of you, it allows for an opportunity to just sit back and see what she does to make herself so successful,” Frost said.

Minnesota’s backup goalies Amanda Leveille and Shyler Sletta have done that.

Leveille said she tries to model her game after Räty’s to a certain extent, but “Noora is Noora.”

“Getting to watch Noora … I can pick up so much that will help me develop into a better goaltender,” Leveille said.

She said she watches how Räty holds her stick and how she controls every puck, among other things.

“She doesn’t give up rebounds,” Leveille said. “[That’s] something that I want to be able to do.”

Leveille hails from Ontario, Canada, and she said her ultimate goal is to play for the Canadian Olympic team.

“Watching how [Räty] practices in practice and how she works hard and how she got to be where she is now — I want to be like her,” Leveille said.

Sletta also said watching Räty had been helpful. She said their verbal communication “wasn’t the greatest” during the first couple of months of Sletta’s freshman year, but she still observed Räty’s play.

“I could always watch her and change my play accordingly to help myself get better,” Sletta said.

Now she said she is “really close” with Räty and can always count on her to be honest and unbiased.

“She’ll never lie to you to make you feel better about yourself,” Sletta said. “If you mess up 100 times, she’ll tell you, ‘You messed up 100 times, and you didn’t get it right once.’”

Sletta said the advice ranges from changing the angle of how she holds her glove to making a stick save differently. She said she could see Räty being a good coach in the future.

“Everything that she’s ever told me to change has always worked out better for me,” Sletta said.

Räty said she gives the goalies advice on little things, such as keeping their hands in front or using their stick better.

Räty joined the Finnish National Team at 15. Because of her age, she said some of her teammates called her “baby.”

She said some of her teammates at the time were in their mid-30s and old enough to be her mother.

Now 23, Räty is the oldest of the three goalies. Sletta is a sophomore, and Leveille is a freshman.

“It kind of feels sometimes like I’m their mom or big sister,” Räty said.

She said the pair knows that if they have questions or need advice, they can talk to her.

Räty said Sletta goes to her more often for advice because Sletta knows her better.

Leveille said Sletta’s positive attitude motivates her.

“We’re both in a position where we’re not going to play this year,” Leveille said. “She doesn’t get to play very much this year, but she’s just so positive on the bench.”

Räty said she thought any of them could start against any opponent and that the Gophers have “the three best goalies in the nation.”

Räty has started all but one game for the Gophers this season.

Leveille recorded 21 saves en route to an 11-0 shutout of Colgate in the team’s second game of the season. She also has appeared in three other games, most recently in the third period of the team’s win Saturday over Minnesota State-Mankato.

She has yet to allow a goal.

Frost said the team is “hopeful” Leveille will start a game in one of the next three weekends.

“We want to keep her as fresh as we can,” he said, “and that’s not always an easy thing with Noora Räty as your starting goalie.”

Sletta, the team’s third-string goalie, hasn’t played at all this season, and Frost said she probably wouldn’t get a lot of time — if any — in games this year.

Last season, Sletta started one game, played in four and didn’t allow a goal.

“If you’re going to … be a backup, I would think that this would be a pretty good spot to be able to watch one of the best,” Frost said.

New Hampshire up next

No. 1 Minnesota will head to Durham, N.H., this weekend for a nonconference matchup with New Hampshire.

The Wildcats are 6-7-1 on the year.

The two teams have faced two common opponents this season: Colgate and St. Lawrence.

Minnesota swept Colgate and St. Lawrence. New Hampshire beat Colgate once, and St. Lawrence swept New Hampshire.

Freshman defenseman Milica McMillen sat out both games in the Gophers’ past series against MSU-Mankato. Frost said she broke team rules.

He said Tuesday that she would practice with the team during the week and that the coaches would decide Friday or Saturday if she would be in the lineup.