Clarke already beginning to follow in Muzerall’s footsteps

Monica Wright

Minnesota women’s hockey coach Laura Halldorson knew she wanted La Toya Clarke on her team the moment she saw her play.
The only problem: Clarke was several years away from even considering a collegiate program, and even further from knowing anything about Minnesota’s then-fledgling program.
In Ontario for a recruiting visit, Halldorson checked out a tournament when the Canadian high schooler came onto the ice and skated circles around her opponents while handling the puck like a professional.
“I saw her play at the tournament a few years ago and her speed definitely caught my eye,” Halldorson said. “I got her on our list and kept following up, and when she was old enough I got in touch with her.”
By the time Clarke reached her final year of high school the Gophers had made a name for themselves. They just joined the WCHA, were on their way to a national championship and had the nation’s leading goalscorer in another Canadian, Nadine Muzerall.
For Clarke, the choice to join the Gophers was a no-brainer.
“The hockey program here is phenomenal,” Clarke said. “Laura took it from a new program to the national championship team in no time.”
No time also describes how long it took Clarke to bring her impressive style of play to the forefront of the team.
In Minnesota’s season opener against St. Cloud State Clarke had five assists, the most points by a freshman in a collegiate debut in school history. The record nabbed Clarke WCHA Rookie of the Week honors as well as numerous comparisons to the Muzerall, the veteran scoring machine.
For Clarke, the likening to Muzzy was no small compliment. At the beginning of the year each Gopher player outlined their goals for the season; one of Clarke’s was to copy Muzerall’s trademark roof shot — getting into the goaltender’s face with the puck and then firing it over their shoulder for a goal.
“La Toya looks up to Muzzy, and she wouldn’t mind being able to perform the patented Muzzy shot,” Halldorson said. “With her sheer talent — she’s fast, can handle the puck, shoot and pass — I think with practice it will happen.”
One of Clarke’s other preseason goals was to rack up 35 points by the end of her freshman year. But with 20 points already under her belt — she currently leads the team — it might be up for revision. Such a high point total was something she said “totally exceeded” her expectations.
But for Muzerall, Clarke’s talent comes as no surprise, and at the best possible time for the Gophers.
“With a huge senior class graduating coach is looking for people to lead the team next year,” Muzerall said. “La Toya is a great talent that the team can depend on.”
For a player Halldorson described as a resident “rink rat,” Clarke should have no problem sliding in to a leadership position next year.
Before that happens, Clarke wants to make sure she’s getting Halldorson’s systems down and achieving what she mapped out for her freshman year.
“I want to learn from the older players and adapt to collegiate hockey,” Clarke said. “So far I’ve been blown away by the whole experience.”

Monica Wright covers women’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]