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UMD women's hockey: Olympics was a great experience for Soderberg, but not what she initially expected

Minnesota Duluth senior goaltender Emma Soderberg was thrust into the starting role for Sweden after four-time Olympian Sara Grahn tested positive for COVID-19. The Bulldogs goalie ran with the opportunity, and took Sweden all the way to the quarterfinals in Beijing.

Ice Hockey - Women's Prelim. Round - Group B - Czech Republic v Sweden
Goalkeeper Emma Soderberg of Sweden in action during the 2022 Olympics at National Indoor Stadium in Beijing, China on February 5, 2022.
MATT SLOCUM/Pool via REUTERS

DULUTH — Minnesota Duluth senior goaltender Emma Soderberg didn’t initially expect to play much during her first Olympics with Sweden considering veteran Sara Grahn was set to make her fourth appearance at the Winter Games in 2022.

But Grahn was unable to travel to Beijing after testing positive for COVID-19. That opened the door for the 23-year-old Soderberg — still wearing her Bulldogs pads and a self-designed helmet — to make her first Olympic start, followed by a second, third, fourth and fifth.

Soderberg backstopped Sweden into the Olympic quarterfinals via a .951 save percentage and 1.77 goals against average in the preliminary round before she and her teammates were shelled by the Canadians in the knockout round to finish with a .913 save percentage and 3.47 GAA.

Soderberg returned to Duluth on Tuesday, and on Wednesday said she would “rip off the Band-Aid” and get right back into her routine with the Bulldogs. Soderberg said it would be up to the coaches whether she plays in the 3 p.m. games on Friday and Saturday against St. Cloud State at Amsoil Arena (and coach Maura Crowell said they’ll see how the week goes).

Prior to getting back on the ice at Amsoil Arena, Soderberg met with Duluth reporters via Zoom, including Matt Wellens of the News Tribune and The Rink Live, to recap her Olympic experience.

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Ice Hockey - Women's Prelim. Round - Group B - Sweden v Japan
Emma Soderberg of Sweden makes a save during the 2022 Olympics at Wukesong Sports Centre in Beijing, China on February 3, 2022.
BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS

What was the experience like playing in your first Olympics and representing Sweden?

It's been a great experience getting to go over there to Beijing and represent Sweden. It turned out to be a different experience than I thought it would be. Going into it, I didn't think I was going to be playing much and then I ended up playing all the games, which was a big experience, a different stage for me. I haven't played in a big tournament like that. The biggest thing I've done is the (U18 Women’s World Championship) for three days. So that was cool, a little bit more pressure, but I think I grew into the tournament as it went on. We kind of had a rough end to our tournament, but other than that, it was a good experience.

When did you find out you were going to be the No. 1, the starter? Or was that not even determined right away? 

I found out she wouldn't be going the day I was flying to Sweden. But there wasn't really a talk with the coaches, with them saying, "Hey, you're going to be No. 1." They always let us know the day before who was playing. They told me, ‘You're going to be playing tomorrow.’ And that was just how it went on throughout the tournament. It wasn't like, "You’re No. 1." It was kind of day-by-day.

So you were playing so well that the coaches stuck with you from the start. Did you feeling like you were playing that well?

I thought my first game was pretty good. I wasn't too happy about it. I thought I had a little bit too many rebounds during the first game. So I didn't have a great feeling, but at the same time, I saw like 40, or almost 40 shots that game, and they were really happy with how I was playing. So that's why they wanted to let me keep going. I thought I got better in the next game and throughout the tournament.

What were the nerves like in that first game for you, making that first Olympic start and the pressure now of you having to be the go-to in goal for your country?

I was nervous. I always have butterflies in my stomach going into any game, but I was trying not to make it into a bigger game than it was. like, I was just trying to handle it as a normal hockey game, same preparation as always and trying to keep it as normal as possible. When I started playing, those jitters go away. Then I can relax and felt calm.

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The final preliminary round game, what did it mean for you to put forth that performance and for Sweden to advance to the quarterfinals?

That was huge for us. We had that as our first goal of the tournament, to reach the quarterfinals. We didn't start the tournament great, so there was pressure there toward the end. But I think we handled it nicely and we grew as a team throughout the tournament. It has been a tough go for Sweden. We had to qualify to get into the Olympics. It was good that we could prove that we can make it to the playoffs in these tournaments and that we are in the top eight.

Ice Hockey - Women's Prelim. Round - Group B - Sweden v Japan
Emma Soderberg of Sweden makes a save during the 2022 Olympics at Wukesong Sports Centre in Beijing, China on February 3, 2022.
BRIAN SNYDER/. REUTERS

Can you share the story behind the wearing the Bulldog pads? And then I heard there's a story behind the helmet as well?

For the pads, Bauer said they can’t supply to college goaltenders. That was the first thing, so I was like, ‘Well, I’ll just wear my own pads,’ because then I wouldn't have to break anything in like with new stuff. Then the goalie coach set me up with a new helmet from CCM because there was too many logos on my Bulldog one, so I wasn't allowed to wear that one. And it was all white, but we had these blue and yellow stickers, so I kind of was sitting, cutting out pieces and sticking it onto the helmet and kind of making my own little design there.

Were able to do on on the off days there? What was it like experiencing everything outside of the hockey rink at the Olympics?

There wasn't that much to do in the village, and you’re trying to stay away from other countries from the COVID perspective, but we were able to walk around there. There was only one day when we went to watch other sports. I can't remember when it was, but we went to watch curling one day because Sweden was playing, and that was basically the only like non-hockey thing I did during the time there.

Bulldogs in Beijing
From left, former Minnesota Duluth and current Team USA director of operations Nick Bryant poses with current Bulldogs players Kassy Betinol of China, Ashton Bell of Canada and Emma Soderberg of Sweden in front of the Olympic rings in the Olympic Village during the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, China.
Contributed / Nick Bryant of USA Hockey

What was it like running into current and former Bulldogs teammates?

That was a very exciting part, to see people I haven't seen for a while, like Ashton (Bell). … I hadn't seen (Kassy Betinol) since April or May of last year. That was the extra bonus of being there and seeing all the other great athletes.

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Anything to say about the goal Kassy scored on you there?

I mean, kind of rude of her to do that to me, but we ended up winning the game, so I’m happy for her. If that had been their winning goal or something, I probably would have been a little mad about it, but I’m happy for her. It was a good move, she caught me.

Ice Hockey - Women's Prelim. Round - Group B - China v Sweden
Kassy Betinol of China scores a goal on Emma Soderberg of Sweden, her teammate at Minnesota Duluth, during the 2022 Olympics at Wukesong Sports Centre in Beijing, China on February 7, 2022.
SONG YANHUA/Pool via REUTERS

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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