Top WCHA goalies present challenge for undefeated Gophers, Räty

Megan Ryan

The No. 1 Gophers women’s hockey team may have the best goaltender in the nation and the WCHA in senior Noora Räty, but it has to face the Nos. 2 and 3 goalies in the conference in consecutive series.

Last weekend, Minnesota swept Wisconsin and its junior goaltender Alex Rigsby to set a new NCAA Division I unbeaten record. Räty also tied the NCAA Division I career wins record.

This weekend, Minnesota-Duluth’s freshman goaltender Kayla Black will look to prevent the Gophers from clinching the regular-season conference title.

While the Gophers’ offense, led by WCHA-leading scorers junior forward Amanda Kessel and freshman forward Hannah Brandt, will make a difference, the showdown usually occurs between the pipes.

“The league that we’re playing in … has become so strong that a lot of the times it has come down to the goaltending,” Rigsby said.

Räty leads the WCHA with a 0.90 goals-against average. Rigsby ranks  second with a 1.70 GAA, and Black ranks third at 1.97.

Against Wisconsin, Räty allowed one goal and also had a shutout. She is four games shy of breaking the NCAA shutout record.

But she said her counterpart played just as well, even if the score line didn’t show it.

“She wasn’t the reason why they lost,” Räty said. “She made 30-plus saves each game. It’s just hard to stop our offense.”

Räty said she tries to stop Kessel and Brandt in practice whenever possible because “I feel like if I can stop our offense, I can stop any offense.”

Head Gophers coach Brad Frost said the main aspect that separates Räty, Rigsby and Black from each other is experience. Black is one of the few freshman goaltenders in the conference who has played significant minutes this season.

“I think Ridder Arena is a tough place to play for any opponent,” Frost said. “And when it’s her first time, it becomes even a little more difficult.”

Räty had already played in the Olympics with the Finnish national team before starting college, and she said she was still nervous as a freshman.

But Rigsby said Black is capable of pulling off an upset.

“She’s the perfect example of a goaltender who stole the show this year against us,” Rigsby said. “She shut us out both games when we played them the first weekend.”

Black said she is anticipating the Gophers’ fast and aggressive offense and is preparing to block a lot of shots on goal.

To prepare for situations like these, Black looks to both Rigsby and Räty for ways to improve her game.

“I can learn from [Räty] even just by watching videos,” Black said.

Räty said she can see Rigsby making the U.S. Olympic team next year and Black as one of the best goalies in the nation in a few years.

As for herself, Räty doesn’t get caught up when people use her name and “best goalie in the world” in the same sentence.

“I hear it quite often. Like even my teammates,” Räty said. “I’m never satisfied. I just want to get better every day because I know I’m not there yet.”