This is the 15th in a series of articles honoring the 20 players who have been selected to the WCHA's 20th anniversary all-time team. This week's honoree is Noora Räty, a goaltender who played at Minnesota from 2009-10 to 2012-13.
By Bill Brophy
It is well known that Noora Räty is an international women's hockey superstar and the best goaltender outside of North America.
Her resume is eye-opening, putting her in the argument among who may be the best goalie in the world. Räty is a three-time Olympian for Finland and is the all-time winningest female goalie in NCAA history with 114 wins during her Minnesota career from 2010-13.
How she got to Minnesota from Espoo, Finland is not so well-known.
"Now that's a great story," said Brad Frost, the Minnesota coach who watched Räty win two national championships with the Golden Gophers.
It seems that Bobbi Ross, who played at Minnesota from 2004-07, was invited to a summer camp sponsored by the International Ice Hockey Federation. Räty was invited to the camp as an up-and-coming player from Finland. Her roommate was Mira Jalosuo who was interested in playing college hockey in the United States. During the camp, Ross told Jalosuo and Räty about college hockey and the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
Both Finnish players were so impressed with Ross's salesmanship that they inquired about attending Minnesota. Frost knew he needed a defenseman, but had already recruited a goaltender so the Gophers' coach wasn't sure about Räty when his assistant coach Jamie Wood spoke up about this young recruit.
"He said "I know we aren't looking for goalie, but if Wayne Gretzky wanted to play for you and we had enough left-handed centers, you wouldn't take him? She is that good.' "
Because of Wood's lobbying effort, the Gophers had their goalie for the next four years. Räty was the WCHA rookie of the year and an all-league goalie as a freshman when she posted a 1.33 goals-against average and had a .948 save percentage as the Gophers qualified for the Frozen Four. She was only the second freshman to ever be a Patty Kazmaier finalist.
Räty (pronounced Rah too) posted a .941 save percentage and 1.76 goals-against as a sophomore, but saved the best for last as Minnesota won national titles in 2012 – beating Wisconsin in Duluth, Minn. for Frost's first championship as a coach – and 2013, capping a perfect 41-0 season by beating Boston University at Minneapolis' packed Ridder Arena. Räty was the most outstanding player in both national championship tournaments.
In 2012, Räty had a 33-5-2 record with a 1.34 goals-against and a .942 save percentage and surrounded by pretty good players like Amanda Kessel, Hannah Brandt and Rachel Ramsey, but sometimes she was asked to step up and win a game.
"That 2012 championship game against Wisconsin, Noora was fantastic," said Frost, recalling his favorite Räty moments in college. "She made some huge saves in the third period when Wisconsin really pushed back against us."
The next year, Minnesota was perfect – doing something no one has ever accomplished, an unbeaten season. Again the supporting cast – with Kessel scoring 101 points and winning the Kazmaier that year – was excellent, but Räty put up incredible goaltending numbers.
"A 0.96 goals against average and .956 save percentage is unheard of," said Frost.
When her career ended Räty had NCAA records for career wins (114), career shutouts (43) and shutouts in a season (17). Her shutout marks were bested by Wisconsin's Ann Renee Desbiens, another member of the WCHA's 20th anniversary team, but it takes nothing away from Räty's perfect season, a campaign filled with pressure.
With the Frozen Four at Ridder in Räty's senior year and the winning streak ongoing, media attention ramped up. So did the crowds. The NCAA didn't do Frost any favors when Minnesota drew North Dakota in the first round of the NCAA playoffs. The Fighting Sioux featured the Laamoureux twins, who are also among the WCHA's 20 best players in the league's first 20 years, and Olympian Michelle Karvinen and were facing the Gophers for the sixth time when the teams met in the first round of the national tournament. Räty was good, as usual. Kelly Terry scored at 18:22 of the third overtime and Minnesota survived.
In the first game of the Frozen Four, the Gophers had to go to overtime to beat Boston College and advance to play Boston University in a title game, where scalpers were getting an unheard of $65 a ticket for women's hockey (five times face value).
"There was no doubt that when we got to the end, it was like nothing we had seen," said Frost. "With the streak, the Frozen Four being sold out in advance, having to play North Dakota for a sixth time in the first round and going to OT against BC in the semifinals, there was pressure on all us."
Räty came up big against Boston University and Minnesota won its second straight title with a 6-3 victory. Räty ended her college career with 49 straight victories and a competitive side that Frost won't forget.
"She was the most confident player I ever had," said Frost. "She thought she should make every save. She hates getting scored on, which is a great thing for a goalie,"
"She wasn't that big, but she was aggressive and had no fear. Mentally she's very strong. She would challenge every shooter and controlled rebounds better than anyone."
Räty, who debuted on the Finnish National team as a 15-year-old, is 29 now and still playing internationally. She has won bronze medals in the Olympics in Vancouver in 2010 and Pyeongchang in 2018. She has also amassed four bronze medals while tending goal for Finland in the IIHF World Championships.
Räty currently is ranked among the top three goalies statistically in the Canadian Women's Hockey League while playing for the Shenzhen Kunlun Vanke Rays in China, the third country Räty has competed in. Last season, Räty had the CWHL's best goals-against average and led her team to the Clarkson Cup finals, dropping an overtime decision to Markham.
She also was the first woman to ever play in the second tier Finnish men's pro league after her college days in Minneapolis, where she still resides in the summer.
About the WCHA 20th Anniversary Team
As it celebrates 20 Years of Excellence during the 2018-19 season, the Women's League of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) will honor the 20 alumnae named to the WCHA 20th Anniversary Team. The team will be revealed, one-by-one, in alphabetical order, one per week (except for the week of Dec. 24) through the week of March 4, prior to the 2019 WCHA Final Faceoff.
From an initial list of 120 nominations, representing each of the league's all-time eight schools, the WCHA 20th Anniversary Team Committee selected 41 finalists. To be nominated a player (forward, defenseman or goaltender) must have completed her collegiate eligibility at a WCHA institution (nominees did not have to play a full four seasons in the WCHA; however, current student-athletes were not eligible).
The WCHA 20th Anniversary team was determined by 1/3 fan vote, 1/3 WCHA alumnae vote and 1/3 Committee vote (consisting of two WCHA Office staff, one former and two current head coaches and three alumnae).
Other WCHA 20th Anniversary Team members:
Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson