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UMD women's hockey: 'Jojo' quickly making a name for herself in the Bulldogs net

The back up to Swedish Olympian Emma Soderberg looks to build off her first two stellar starts this weekend when the Bulldogs host Minnesota State as Amsoil Arena.

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Goaltender Jojo Chobak (31) of Minnesota Duluth deflects a shot on goal against St. Cloud State during a game last season at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.
Clint Austin / File / caustin@duluthnews.com
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DULUTH — Minnesota Duluth sophomore goaltender Violet “Jojo” Chobak grew up playing hockey in Chicago with her older brothers, Bryce and Cole.

Only a couple years older, Bryce and Cole couldn’t pronounce “Violet” when they were younger, so the two came up with a nickname for their younger sister that has stuck.

“It started out as ‘Yoyo’ and then it became ‘Jojo,’” Chobak said. “And since I always played hockey with them, it kind of stuck with me throughout my hockey career. Now every calls me that at hockey.”

“Jojo” is a name Bulldogs fans quickly became familiar with last weekend as the 20-year-old sophomore stopped 65 of the 68 shots she faced in a win and loss over Ohio State at the OSU Ice Rink in Columbus, Ohio.

And it’s a name they’ll have to continue to familiarize themselves with while senior starting goaltender Emma Soderberg is away with Sweden at the 2022 Olympic games in Beijing for the remainder of the regular season.

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Last Friday’s 1-0 win thanks to the late goal by senior defenseman Kylie Hanley was Chobak’s first start as a Bulldog in two seasons — Chobak made just four relief appearances prior to that — and she stopped all 27 shots she faced against a Buckeyes team that averages a league-best 5.09 goals per game.

“Getting the opportunity to start was really awesome, especially against a team like that,” Chobak said. “I was just really focused and trying to do my best for my team. And I knew they would have my back as well.”

After a stellar debut as an NCAA starter in Columbus last week, Chobak will now have the chance to prove she is a consistent one this weekend when the Bulldogs host Minnesota State in WCHA play at 3 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at Amsoil Arena.

Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell said Chobak is game-ready and that the inexperienced college starter gives UMD a chance to win every game.

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Minnesota Duluth goaltender Jojo Chobak (31) blocks a shot on goal by Ohio State in the second period on Saturday, March 6, 2021, during a WCHA Final Faceoff semifinal at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis.
Tyler Schank / File / Duluth News Tribune

“I love her demeanor. She doesn't give up a lot of rebounds. I love that as well. As a coach, that's a great feeling. She's a sticky goalie, as they say,” said Crowell, adding that Chobak plays much bigger than her 5-foot-8 frame.

“She makes a lot of shoulder saves look easy. She's good on her posts. She's a really good goalie. I was just happy for her to take advantage of the opportunity that she got this weekend and it certainly builds confidence for our group moving forward.”

Chobak, who turns 21 toward the end of April, came to the Bulldogs a year ago as a 19-year-old freshman after deferring her enrollment a year following graduation from Glenbrook North High School in 2019. She spent her gap year playing a second season with the Chicago Young Americans Under-19 squad.

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Chobak said she’s become mentally tougher as a goaltender over the last season and a half, and admires the cool, calm and collected energy Soderberg displays in net, no matter the situation.

Like Chobak, Soderberg also sat behind a veteran goaltender for two seasons in Olympic gold medalist Maddie Rooney. Soderberg made five starts in two seasons before taking over the No. 1 job as a junior in 2020-21, when she was named an All-American.

Rooney wasn’t a starter from Day 1 at UMD, either, splitting the starting goaltender job as a freshman with senior Kayla Black before taking over the starting job full-time as a sophomore in 2017-18.

Crowell said goaltending is a unique position, one where 2-4 players spend a lot of time together, and only one usually gets all the ice time. The key is for everyone in that group to be a selfless teammate. That's especially true for the No. 1.

“The better teammates that you can have in that position, the better off you're going to be in the long haul,” Crowell said. “We've been fortunate to bring in some really good quality people that care about the team.”

Scouting the Mavericks

Minnesota State comes to Duluth this weekend sitting fifth in the WCHA standings and riding a three-game winning streak.

The Mavericks have dropped just two games going back to December, going 7-2-1 with one of those victories coming in overtime at Minnesota on Jan. 15. The win at Ridder Arena snapped a 53-game losing streak against the Gophers.

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UMD and the Mavs opened WCHA play against each other Oct. 1-2 in Mankato with the Bulldogs winning 7-0 before falling 4-2 the next day. The loss for UMD snapped a five-game winning streak and 18-game unbeaten streak against MSU.

“That second game loss, we remember, and we want to make sure we're ready to go,” Crowell said. “This is a good Mankato team, probably as good as we've seen in years.”

Senior forward Brittyn Fleming leads MSU in scoring with 30 points of 11 goals and 19 assists. Junior forward Kelsey King is right behind her with a team-high of 13 goals, plus 13 assists. Junior Calla Frank has led the team in goal, going 10-9-1 as the starter with a .905 save percentage and 2.88 goals against average.

MORE BULLDOGS HOCKEY COVERAGE:

Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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