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The 1-2 goalie punch of Chobak, Ahola has helped solidify SCSU as a ranked team

The junior duo are each having seasons that rank in the top 10 for the program, which began in 1998. The 12th-ranked Huskies play No. 7 UMD this weekend in Duluth.

St. Cloud State goalie JoJo Chobak watches play in the corner with the University of Wisconsin student section watching on Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis. Chobak had 39 saves in a 1-0 win over the Badgers before a crowd of 14,430.
Contibuted / Huskies Athletics

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — JoJo Chobak heard the University of Wisconsin women's hockey fans trying to get under her skin. There were 14,430 fans on Feb. 3 at the Kohl Center in Madison, so there were a lot of voices.

Then Chobak, a junior goalie from Chicago, went and stopped all 39 shots she faced to lead the St. Cloud State women's hockey team to a 1-0 win over the Badgers. It was the Huskies' first win over Wisconsin since Feb. 20, 2015.

"That was a really great game and it was really fun and, even up to the last minute, everyone was on their toes," Chobak said. "It was such a close game all the time, everyone had to buy in and lock it down for as long as we could and it ended up working out in our favor.

"It was the biggest crowd I've played in front of. It was a really cool experience. For me, I was trying not to think about that too much. I try to play the game on the ice and not in the stands. It can be pretty easy to get overwhelmed and distracted. In a certain aspect, I didn't get to enjoy it until the end of the game.

"I don't think it got quiet after we won. Wisconsin's fans are always yelling stuff at the goalies. Even when we were walking off the ice, they were still yelling. But it felt a little bit better — that's really funny now. You can keep saying that, but ... "


The following day, Huskies junior goalie Sanni Ahola, made 36 saves in a 3-2 loss to the Badgers, who are ranked eighth in the latest NCAA Division I poll. The strong play of Chobak and Ahola has played a large role in St. Cloud State having its highest ranking in program history (No. 12) and having 16 wins, already the second-most wins in a season (18 in 2007-08 and 2005-06).

The Huskies (9-15 WCHA, 16-15 overall) will look to add to that win total this weekend when they play a conference series against seventh-ranked Minnesota Duluth (14-8-2, 20-8-2) at 6 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Saturday (both on B1G+) at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.

St. Cloud State goalie Sanni Ahola is having her best statistical season of her college career. The junior from Helsinki, Finland, is 8-9 with a 2.59 goals-against average and .921 save percentage. The wins, GAA and save percentage are each the best numbers of her career.
Contributed / Huskies Athletics

Big wins for both

Both goalies have had wins this season that ended long program losing streaks to a powerhouse program.

On Nov. 7, Ahola made 34 saves in a 4-1 win over the University of Minnesota. That was the first win for the Huskies over the Gophers since Feb. 13, 2010.

"It's been a lot of fun," said Ahola, a junior from Helsinki, Finland. "When you're an underdog, it feels so much better to beat those really good teams."

St. Cloud State has also picked up WCHA points in games against Wisconsin (OT loss, Oct. 15, Ahola 42 saves) and defending national champion Ohio State (OT loss, Jan. 21, Ahola 47 saves).

And Chobak has five shutouts, which is one away from tying the program career record (6, Ashley Nixon, 2007-11, Lauri St. Jacques, 2003-07). It is fair to say that Chobak, a transfer from Minnesota Duluth, is enjoying her first season with the Huskies.


"I had an idea of what I was getting into," Chobak said of joining the Huskies, who were 15-35-4 in the previous two seasons. "But I also knew that we were coming under a new coaching staff and we were at a point where we wanted to make a turning point.

"I think we've been able to do that and lock in on what our focus is this season. Having those big games, I'm really proud of all the girls and the work that they're doing. I like being a part of a team that some people might consider being an underdog. It makes it that much better when you're able to prove people wrong."

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Keys to their strong performances

Going into this weekend, Chobak is 8-6 with a 2.54 GAA and .918 save percentage in 16 games; Ahola is 8-9 with a 2.59 GAA and .921 save percentage. Their GAAs and save percentages are both in the program's top 10 for a season.

Besides a new head coach in Brian Idalski, the Huskies also have a new volunteer goalie coach in Megan Van Beusekom-Sweerin, a former Princeton University standout and Team USA goalie. Van Beusekom-Sweerin said that working with Ahola and Chobak has made her first experience as a college coach an enjoyable one.

"It's so much fun and it doesn't even feel like work," Van Beusekom-Sweerin said. "The goalies are awesome ... I didn't know anything about them (going in)."

OK, so what makes the 5-foot-7 Ahola so effective?

"Her footwork is phenomenal," Van Beusekom-Sweerin said. "She can really move around the crease. Her tenacity on loose pucks — she battles and works hard. She's just simple and doesn't over-complicate things at all.


"Her first language and my first language aren't the same and the goalie terms are different here. We kind of find the middle road and then once we find that, we just focus on the fundamentals."

Chobak is only an inch taller at 5-8, but her style is different than Ahola's.

"She's more of a stand-up (goalie)," Van Beusekom-Sweerin said of Chobak. "They have their different styles and make it work for each of them.

"JoJo comes more across the crease (than Ahola), stays on her feet and shuffles."

And both goalies are enjoying Van Beusekom-Sweerin's coaching approach. Rather than trying to mold them both into the same style, both say that Van Beusekom-Sweerin recognizes the strengths in their styles and tries to work with them.

"She's getting more comfortable with us every day," Ahola said. "I like her. We have a lot of freedom to choose the drills that we do and that's really nice. She gives some tips if she sees something. She's a very nice person, which is always a plus."

"Working with Megan has been great and she's gotten more comfortable with us over time and she's always there to make corrections for us," Chobak said. "I like when I see her at the start of the week and she kind of recaps the weekend for me. 'How did you feel about that?' It's beyond how your game is on the ice, but also where your mind is at ... She's going to get it a lot more than someone who isn't a goalie. She gives the perspective of what worked for her and stuff we can try to get to her level."

JoJo Chobak has set a St. Cloud State women's hockey team record with five shutouts this season with four games left in the regular season.


Making the platoon work

All college players want to play all the time. But when Idalski took over the program, he said that Chobak and Ahola were going to each play one game in a weekend because of the number of shots that they face.

Opponents are averaging 31.8 shots-per-game against the Huskies. But also consider that St. Cloud State has given up the second-most shot attempts in the country (64.4 per game). Certainly, it helps that the Huskies lead the WCHA in blocked shots (15.9 per game). In the win over Wisconsin, SCSU blocked 32 shots. In the win over Minnesota, the Huskies blocked 22 shots.

"We appreciate that a lot," Ahola said with a big smile. "The players have made our job way easier this year with keeping the shots to the outside, not letting a lot of 2-on-1s and blocking everything. It makes our job way easier."

Sanni Ahola is 16-27-1 with a 3.20 goals-against average, .911 save percentage and three shutouts in 50 career games with St. Cloud State.

An old adage is that a hockey team's best penalty killer has to be its goalie. St. Cloud State is also the second-most penalized team in the country (9.8 penalty minutes per game), but is eighth in the nation on the penalty kill (88.9%).

Most of the time, goalies want to be in all of the games to stay sharp. But Chobak and Ahola say that part of the reason for their success has been not carrying the entire load.

"It works," Ahola said. "It's not only physically tough, but it's mentally tough when you see 55 shots in a game. That's why it's important to have two good goalies, so you can give your team a chance to win every game."

"We've been going where I play Friday and Sanni plays on Saturday and I like that a lot," Chobak said. "I think it's hard when you're facing 50 shots in a game sometimes. It's not always easy to play back-to-back games those days. I feel like it's been working well. Being able to focus on one day where I can really lock in and the second day — obviously you always have to be prepared — at the same time, it's good to get (Sanni) in there."

The duo has combined for a program record six shutouts this season. Ahola had a 15-save shutout against Bemidji State on Nov. 4 and in nine of her starts, she's given up two goals or fewer.


Mick Hatten is a reporter and editor for Forum News Service and helps manage TheRinkLive.com, a website dedicated to hockey. He began working for Forum Communications in November 2018 and has covered St. Cloud State University hockey since 2010. A graduate of St. Cloud State, he has more than 30 years of experience as a journalist and has been a youth hockey coach since 2014. mhatten@forumcomm.com

For more coverage of St. Cloud and the surrounding communities, check out St. Cloud Live.
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