Laura Halldorson won’t admit it, but for the first time in almost two years the head coach of Minnesota’s women’s hockey team has a number one goalie, and she wears No. 27.
Halldorson and the Gophers found success last season platooning freshmen Jody Horak and Brenda Reinen between the pipes after losing four-year starter Erica Killewald to graduation.
But with Reinen’s playing time this season limited by a nagging muscle injury in her leg, Horak is thriving in the starting role and has emerged as the team’s top goaltender in just her second season at Minnesota.
Although young, Horak has already proven herself up to the challenge after a stellar freshman campaign in which she posted a 14-2-2 record and earned All-WCHA first team honors.
“Last year gave me a lot of experience in terms of being able to play under pressure and focusing against top teams,” Horak said.
Halldorson maintains that the competition between her two goalies is under constant evaluation, but any doubt that Horak deserves to anchor the conference’s No. 2 scoring defense disappeared Saturday.
In what Halldorson called a must-win game on the road against fifth-ranked New Hampshire, Horak responded with a dominant performance and led the Gophers to a 4-0 shutout.
“When Horak’s in the net, we just have so much confidence on the ice, and it shows in the way we play,” said teammate La Toya Clarke, who is also Horak’s roommate.
Horak ranks first in the WCHA in both goals against average (1.62) and save percentage (.932). In 17 games this season, the sophomore net-minder owns a 15-2 record; good enough for a .882 winning percentage – tied for best in the country.
In her collegiate career, Horak has been beaten only four times in 35 contests (29-4-2).
Not bad for an underclassman with the pressure of being the last line of defense on a team challenging for a national title.
“We have to keep remembering how young she is,” Halldorson said. “We think of her as this veteran when really she’s only a sophomore.”
After losing to Brown in the semi-finals of last year’s national tournament, Horak
recommitted herself and spent the off-season conditioning and doing agility training at Blaine High School.
The work paid off. Both Horak and goaltending coach Jeff Moen agree that she came into this season in better shape and has strengthened her main weaknesses from a year ago – aggressiveness and rebound control.
The result is Horak’s arrival as the No. 1 starter at a position that Clarke calls the foundation of the team.
And even Halldorson can’t help but be impressed at how good her sophomore
sensation has become in such a short period of time.
“When you’re a freshman you’ve got nothing to lose,” Halldorson said. “Now, there’s a little more pressure and the expectations are higher. It’s more of a test once you have the reputation [of a good goalie] and you’ve got to prove it again and again.”
In the meantime Horak continues to make believers out of everyone else.
Brett Angel covers women’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]