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UMD women's hockey: Sweden selects Soderberg for Olympic team, creating an opening in the Bulldogs net

Bulldogs senior goaltender Emma Soderberg is leaving to join Sweden this week for the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, leaving backups Jojo Chobak and Holly Gruber to close out the regular season for UMD.

Minnesota Duluth Bemidji State Women's Hockey
Minnesota Duluth goaltender Emma Soderberg (30) stops a shot on goal against Bemidji State on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. Soderberg has been selected to Sweden's Olympic team for the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Minnesota Duluth senior goaltender Emma Soderberg takes nothing for granted.

For instance, she helped backstop Sweden through qualifying and into the 2022 Olympics in November, but hasn’t allowed anyone to call her an Olympian over the last two months as her country had yet to name its official Olympic roster.

That changed Wednesday morning when Sweden officially unveiled its Olympic women’s hockey team for the 2022 Winter Games that get underway in a few weeks in Beijing. It included Soderberg, as well as former Bulldogs Linnea Hedin and forward Michelle Lowenhielm.

UPDATE: Hedin replaced on Olympic roster after testing positive for COVID-19

“It feels great. I’m very honored I get the chance to represent my country in the Olympic Games,” said Soderberg, who found out earlier this month she had made the Swedish Olympic team. “I’m just very excited right now to see what’s to come because I’m not sure what to expect yet.”

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Like Soderberg, this will be the first Olympics for Hedin, a defenseman who played four seasons at UMD from 2014-18. Lowenhielm, a forward who was also at UMD with Hedin from 2014-18, is making her second Olympic appearance. She is one nine players on Team Sweden with Olympic experience, having made her first Olympic team in 2014 in Sochi, Russia, when Sweden lost the bronze medal game to Switzerland.

“A lot of the people on this team, I’ve played with on U18 teams,” Soderberg said of the roster. “We have a good, skilled, younger group and that’s why we have 14 first-time Olympians. We have a hard-working group. … We can go far from the hard work and skill that we have.”

Sweden has medaled twice at the Olympics — bronze in 2002 and silver in 2006 — and finished in the top four at four straight Winter Games between 2002 and 2014. Sweden finished seventh in 2018 in Pyeongchang, however, and was relegated from the IIHF’s top division of women’s hockey in 2019 — a first for Sweden — following a loss to Japan and ninth-place finish at the 2019 Women’s World Championship.

Since then, Sweden has been fighting to get back to the top. That push culminated in Olympic qualifying in November when the country went 3-0 at home to win its group and clinch a spot in Beijing.

BULLDOG INSIDER PODCAST: After success at Olympic qualifying, Soderberg back in goal for UMD

Lowenhielm, the qualifying captain, had a goal and four assists while Hedin posted a goal and two assists in the three games.

Soderberg got the start in the second game of qualifying, making five saves on five shots for a 15-0 shutout of South Korea. She backed up starter Sara Grahn — who is back for her fourth Olympics with Sweden — in the wins over Slovakia (3-0) and France (3-2).

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Sweden opens Olympic play on Feb. 3 with a preliminary round matchup against Japan before taking on Czechia (Feb. 5), China (Feb. 7) and Denmark (Feb. 8). The knockout round begins Feb. 11 with the gold medal game scheduled for Feb. 17.

Bulldogs turn to Jojo

Soderberg flies out to join Team Sweden on Friday — yes, this Friday — meaning the Bulldogs will be without their starting goaltender for their final 12 regular season games, starting this weekend at No. 2 Ohio State.

Sophomore Jojo Chobak, a 20-year-old Chicago native, is in line to take over the starting role, even though she has yet to make a start in her two seasons at UMD. She’s only come on in relief of Soderberg the last two seasons, and on just four occasions.

Freshman Holly Gruber of Plover, Wisconsin, has yet to get in a game this season.

“I have faith in every single one of these girls, no matter who is going to be in net. I know they’re going to kill it,” UMD fifth-year senior Anna Klein said. “I know it can be hard for those two having Sods in front of them, and obviously she’s a great goaltender, but I think they’ve been able to learn a lot from her and they’ve been showing up at practice, which in that position, is all you can do. We’re excited to see them play.”

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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

Chobak has appeared in two games this year, stopping all three shots she faced in the final 28 minutes, 24 seconds at St. Thomas in a 7-0 win on Oct. 24. Her most recent appearance was last Friday when she stopped the two shots she faced in the final 5:26 of an 8-2 win over Bemidji State.

Chobak saw 52 minutes of action a year ago, playing the third period of a 5-1 win over St. Cloud State on Dec. 5, 2020, and then the final 32:03 of a 7-2 loss to Ohio State in the WCHA Final Faceoff semifinals at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis. She saw a total of 29 shots in those two appearances, stopping 26.

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Soderberg, an All-American and the WCHA Goaltender of the Year last season, only appeared in nine games her first two seasons, starting five, while playing behind Rooney as a freshman and sophomore.

Soderberg has started every game each of the past two seasons at UMD. She has a .920 save percentage and 2.17 goals against average with four shutouts in 20 starts this year.

Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell said Chobak and Soderberg are similar, but not necessarily in terms of style of play, but in their situation at UMD.

“Sometimes you just have a tremendous goalie in front of you and you have to wait for your opportunities,” Crowell said. “This is a similar situation where she has a great opportunity in front of her. As a player she works her butt off every day in practice.

“Jojo is very capable, has a lot of size (5-foot-8), smart goaltender. Holly is different than Jojo. She’s more of an active goalie, she’s a little on the smaller side (5-7) compared to Jojo, but super active, athletic, working on staying on her feet. I like the 1-2 punch there if we need to use both of them, it gives you a very different look and I would say challenging for opponents to figure out.”

Scouting the Buckeyes

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Minnesota Duluth forward Anneke Linser (13) scores a goal against Ohio State goaltender Andrea Braendli (20) on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

The Bulldogs aren’t the only WCHA team losing their starting goaltender to the Olympics. Buckeyes senior Andrea Braendli is also heading to Beijing with Switzerland, though OSU will have three other options, including two who have started a game this season.

Braendli has started 12 of the Buckeyes’ 20 games, posting a .924 save percentage and 1.84 GAA. She played just 10:21 of the series in Duluth against the Bulldogs, getting pulled after giving up three goals on nine shots in the 5-2 loss on Dec. 3 at Amsoil Arena.

Sophomore Amanda Thiele came on in relief on Dec. 3 to make 17 saves on 18 shots. She then got one of her five starts the next day, stopping 25 of 27 in a 6-2 Buckeyes win. She’s posted a .938 save percentage and 1.08 GAA in her seven games this year.

In that first meeting between the Bulldogs and Buckeyes in Duluth, both teams jumped out to early leads and then piled on to secure wins. UMD led 3-0 after the first period on Dec. 3 before going up 4-0 after the second. OSU led 2-0 after one on Dec. 4 before getting to 5-0 with under 13:00 to go in the third.

Bulldog Bytes

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Minnesota Duluth forward Anna Klein (19) shoots the puck on goal against Ohio State on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

Following the announcement of Team Sweden on Wednesday morning, the Bulldogs women’s hockey program is up to three current players — Soderberg, senior defenseman Ashton Bell (Canada) and junior forward Kassy Betinol (China) — and seven alumni now on Olympic teams for the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

Eight of the 10 Olympians have played at UMD under Crowell and associate head coach Laura Bellamy over the last seven seasons. They’ve coached 10 total Olympians, with six making their first Olympics after playing for Crowell and Bellamy.

“It’s super cool. It’s really crazy. You keep going on Twitter and there are more announcements about girls who have made teams,” said Klein about all the Bulldogs named to Olympic teams. She and redshirt senior Naomi Rogge have played with seven of the 10 in their UMD careers. “There are so many people that are going and I’m really excited because basically every game that I’m going to watch, I’m going to know someone.”

  • Klein can tie the UMD record for consecutive games played if she plays both games against the Buckeyes in Columbus, Ohio, this weekend. She currently has played 145 consecutive games and is tied for eighth all-time in games played by a Bulldog.
  • UMD and St. Cloud State have rescheduled their series that was postponed on Jan. 7-8 due to COVID-19 protocols at UMD. The games in St. Cloud will now take place at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 1 — between series Jan. 28-29 vs. Minnesota State and Feb. 4-5 at Wisconsin — and at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 15 — between home series Feb. 11-12 vs. St. Thomas and Feb. 18-19 vs. SCSU.

The Huskies are also making up a game against Ohio State on Tuesday, Feb. 8, in St. Cloud, after the series between the Buckeyes and Huskies was postponed last week due to COVID-19 protocols at SCSU. The second game of that series has been canceled, meaning the WCHA will use points percentage instead of total points to calculate the standings due to everyone in the league not playing the same amount of league games this season.

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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