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UMD women's hockey: Support from family in Sweden convinces Soderberg to return to Bulldogs for fifth season

Jojo Chobak, who was in line to take over as the starting goaltender next season, has entered the NCAA transfer portal after two seasons at UMD.

Minnesota Duluth women’s hockey team faces  Ohio State for national championship
Minnesota Duluth goaltender Emma Soderberg (30) keeps her eye on an airborne puck during the Women’s Frozen Four National Championship on Sunday, March 20, 2022, at Pegula Ice Arena in University Park, Pennsylvania.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Minnesota Duluth goaltenders Emma Soderberg and Jojo Chobak were guests on the News Tribune’s Bulldog Insider Podcast in March during the leadup to the 2022 NCAA Frozen Four at Penn State.

Soderberg was asked on the podcast whether she would come back for a fifth season with the Bulldogs in 2022-23, and the All-American, Olympic goalie was adamant it would be Chobak in net when the UMD hosted the 2023 NCAA Frozen Four at Amsoil Arena.

Soderberg said she was heading back home to Sweden after graduation, and that she might not even be able to watch her Bulldogs as a fan at the Frozen Four if her team was still alive in the SDHL (Swedish Women’s Hockey League).

What she never said on the podcast, however, was the word, “No.”

“I’m graduating,” responded Soderberg to the question. “So …”

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So … Soderberg is coming back for a fifth season, after all. That’s what is happening in 2022-23, the Bulldogs announced Thursday on social media. It comes a day after it was reported that Chobak — a sophomore who stepped in and thrived while Soderberg was with Sweden at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing — had entered the NCAA’s transfer portal in search of a new school.

Soderberg said she made her final decision about a week ago after a phone call with the UMD staff. She took two days to think about it, then texted the staff that she wanted to come back.

“I knew that here at UMD is the best place for me to play hockey, but I wasn’t sure to make a decision on it because I’ve always been set on four years of college, then I’m going home,” said Soderberg, who is graduating in the spring with a degree in business administration. She’ll be adding an economic degree on to that next season. “There was never an option earlier to stay for another year.

“I started thinking about it around Christmas, but since I personally didn’t know what I wanted, that’s why I never talked about me thinking about it.”

Soderberg will be one of nine fifth-year seniors on UMD’s 2022-23 roster along with Gabbie Hughes, Taylor Anderson, Anneke Linser, Lizi Norton, Kylie Hanley, Maggie Flaherty, Naomi Rogge (back for a sixth year, actually, after receiving a medial redshirt in 2019-20) and Ashton Bell, who spent 2021-22 helping Canada win gold at the 2022 Olympics.

Soderberg said Bell lobbied her to return for another season so they could be teammates one last time after being adversaries in Beijing (Bell and Canada eliminated Soderberg and Sweden in the quarterfinals).

Her family back in Sweden played the biggest role in her decision to come back, though, Soderberg said.

“It was not until after the season when I went home and talked to my family and they were supporting me to stay, that’s when I felt like I can make the decision,” Soderberg said. “Then it was an easy one to make.”

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Soderberg was the WCHA Goaltender of the Year and an American Hockey Coaches Association All-American in 2020-21 as a junior after she had backed up Olympic gold medalist Maddie Rooney as a freshman and sophomore. As a senior, she started every game for the Bulldogs from Oct. 1 until Jan. 15, when she then left to backstop Sweden into the Olympic quarterfinal in Beijing.

Ice Hockey - Women's Play-offs Quarterfinals - Canada v Sweden
Emma Soderberg of Sweden in action during the 2022 Beijing Olympics at Wukesong Sports Centre in Beijing, China on February 11, 2022.
SONG YANHUA/Pool via REUTERS

Chobak, who had only made relief appearances in her first year and a half at UMD, took over as the starter on Jan. 21 and promptly shut out Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio, in her first collegiate start. She continued to hold the top spot — even after Soderberg got back from the Olympics as some extra post-Olympics recovery time was required to get over the jet lag from Beijing — through the WCHA playoffs.

However, when it came time for the NCAA tournament, UMD went back to Soderberg, who backstopped the Bulldogs to the Frozen Four in University Park, Pennsylvania, and to the national championship game, where the Bulldogs fell 3-2 to the Buckeyes.

Soderberg finished her true-senior season with a .925 save percentage and 2.10 goals against average, though in the NCAA tournament she had a .966 save percentage and 1.08 GAA. She had a 27-save shutout of Harvard in the first round, stopped 37 of 38 shots in a regional final win over Minnesota at the Gophers’ very own Ridder Arena and she made 46 saves on 47 shots in a double-overtime victory over Northeastern in the Frozen Four semifinals.

“She has intangibles that we love,” Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell said of Soderberg. “She’s been in all the biggest moments of this program in the past few years. She’s a leader in the locker room, knows exactly what we expect, loves her team and loves being a Bulldog. It’s a fantastic fit.”

Chobak recorded a .928 save percentage and 1.79 GAA in 2021-22 with three shutouts while Soderberg was away at the Olympics, blanking the Buckeyes, Wisconsin and St. Cloud State in key victories that helped get the Bulldogs into the NCAA tournament.

In the WCHA playoffs, she played all but the first period of Game 1 of a best-of-three quarterfinal series against Minnesota State at Amsoil Arena — Soderberg was pulled after giving up three goals on five shots in the first — and finished with a postseason save percentage of .912 and 2.72 GAA.

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Crowell said, ideally, she would have liked to have both Soderberg and Chobak back for 2022-23.

“We want our kids to stay in our program. We love them. We develop them and care about them greatly,” Crowell said. “Our ideal situation was going to be to have both of them and split time. Sods was good with that and Jojo wanted more. She has a right to go into the portal and see what she can find.”

Minnesota Duluth Women’s Hockey plays Minnesota State in the first round of the WCHA tournament
Minnesota Duluth goaltender Jojo Chobak (31) stops a puck against Minnesota State forward Sydney Shearen (16) on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Chobak, 20, of Chicago, has three seasons of NCAA eligibility remaining as, like Soderberg any everyone else who played in 2020-21, she was granted an extra season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If she remained in Duluth, Chobak would not only be battling for time in net this year with Soderberg, but for two more years after that with Eve Gascon slated to come in next season.

Gascon is considered the future of the Canadian Women’s National Team in goal. She is one of just three women to ever play in goal in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and one of two women to ever pick up a win in net.

Chobak is one of three Bulldogs reportedly in the portal and one of two UMD goalies. Junior forward Kassy Betinol, who spent the 2021-22 season playing with Team China in Russia and in the 2022 Olympics, confirmed to the News Tribune she is seeking a new school. Crowell mentioned Thursday that freshman goaltender Holly Gruber is also looking for a new place to play.

Crowell said she supports players’ right to find a place where they can play, and that they no longer have to sit out a year after transferring.

“I think if student-athletes are in situations that they're unhappy with, that they should be able to move,” Crowell said. “People always say, ‘If coaches can move, why can't players move?’”

Minnesota Duluth women’s hockey prepares for Frozen Four semifinal at Pegula Ice Arena
Minnesota Duluth goaltenders Emma Soderberg (30), Holly Gruber and Jojo Chobak seen at practice on Thursday, March 17, 2022, at Pegula Ice Arena in University Park, Pennsylvania.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

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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