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Out of a half dozen schools, former UMD goalie Jojo Chobak chooses to transfer to SCSU

Chobak, who was a backup goalie the last two seasons for the Bulldogs, also made the decision as St. Cloud State University was looking for a new women's head coach. Before playing in college, she played for the Chicago Young Americans.

Women hockey players in purple and yellow uniforms compete against players in white and maroon uniforms on an indoor ice sheet.
Minnesota Duluth goaltender Jojo Chobak (31) makes a save against Minnesota State on Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Hockey players who enter the NCAA transfer portal can have a variety of experiences.

For a goalie coming off a good season in the WCHA, JoJo Chobak had some options.

"There were probably 5-6 that I was talking to and I found that St. Cloud (State) was the best fit for me," she said of Division I teams that she had serious discussions with. "I chose St. Cloud because of the opportunities that I will have, both individually and with my team. I'm happy with my decision to stay in the WCHA because I know that the competition that we will face is unlike any other league.

"When I visited, the girls were so welcoming and I think I will fit in well with the group."

Chobak chose St. Cloud State as it was going through the hiring process for a head women's hockey coach. SCSU assistant coach Molly Engstrom, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire head women's hockey coach Erik Strand and former University of North Dakota head coach Brian Idalski were the three finalists.

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"With the coaching thing, it was kind of on edge for me at decision time and I kind of did want to know (who it would be)," she said. "But I knew that the candidates they were choosing from was a good group, trustworthy and would be somebody I'd want to lead us.

"The fact that it ended up being coach Idalski is great. I'm excited about his addition to the program and I know that he's had a lot of success coaching and has been part of prominent programs in the past. I know his leadership will improve our team and I look forward to seeing our development going forward."

Solid sophomore season

Chobak spent two seasons at the University of Minnesota Duluth before deciding to transfer. She spent both seasons as a backup to Emma Soderberg, but saw a great deal of playing time last season because Soderberg played for Sweden in the Olympics.

In 20 games (14 starts), Chobak was 10-4-1 with a 1.79 goals-against average, .928 saves percentage and three shutouts. In WCHA play, she was second in saves percentage and fourth in goals-against average. Perhaps most impressive about her season was that she had a 45-save performance in a 3-0 win at Wisconsin on Feb. 4 and a 27-save performance in a 1-0 win at Ohio State on Jan. 21.

Chobak and the Bulldogs handed both the Badgers and the Buckeyes one of their two home losses of the season while Soderberg was at the Olympics. UMD went on to reach the national championship game and finished 27-12-1.

"It was really awesome to be a part of and to make it as far as we did was so cool and I think it was a great experience for everyone," she said. "Getting the opportunity to start and play while Emma was gone was something I dreamed about and I always wanted to be in that position.

"The fact that I was able to help my team stay up in the rankings and get to the national tournament while she was gone was really great," said Chobak, who played in two games a freshman. "I feel grateful that I was able to help and contribute more than I did in the past."

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As a college athlete, we all know that starting positions are not guaranteed. But I knew, that by default, this (starting) role was no longer possible at UMD.
JoJo Chobak

Chobak planned on returning to UMD this fall, but then Soderberg decided to use her additional season of eligiblity (due to the pandemic) and return to the Bulldogs.

"I enjoyed my two years at UMD and I'm really grateful," she said. "After my sophomore year and the presence that I held for my team in Emma's absence, I anticipated my junior year would reflect that success. After finding out that Emma would be returning for her fifth season, the coaches let me know that we would be splitting time for the coming season.

"As a college athlete, we all know that starting positions are not guaranteed. But I knew, that by default, this (starting) role was no longer possible at UMD. After two years of being the backup, I wanted to be sure that I was doing everything I could to advocate for myself and see what other options I would have for playing time in another program. I looked at many other schools and found that St. Cloud was the best fit for me."

The Huskies finished seventh in the WCHA and 9-23-3 overall last season. Fifth-year senior goalie Emma Polusny was the WCHA Goaltender of the Year and split time with Sanni Ahola, who will be a junior this season and was 5-13-0 with a 3.75 GAA and .900 saves percentage in 2021-22.

Minnesota Duluth women’s hockey team prepares for National Championship game against Ohio State
Minnesota Duluth goaltender Jojo Chobak (31) stops the puck during a practice at the Women’s Frozen Four on Saturday, March 19, 2022, at Pegula Ice Arena in University Park, Pennsylvania.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Started playing goalie at age 12

Chobak grew up in Chicago and did not begin playing goalie until she was 12. She played mostly boys hockey until she was 15 and also played forward growing up.

She is the youngest of three children in her family and her brothers (Bryce and Cole) both played hockey and the three of them were each born 15 months apart.

"One time, my brother was at a game and his goalie either didn't show up or was late and I'd never played goalie before," she said of her debut in net. "His coach was like, 'We have gear in the car. Would you like to play goalie?'

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"I wore my forward shin pads under the goalie pads, my forward chest protector and forward helmet and I played one period and let in one goal. I still remember it vividly. After that, my team didn't have a great goalie and everyone was asking was, 'Do you want to play (goalie)?' I was like, 'Sure.'

"At the time, I really liked the responsibility and the role that I played on the team. My parents begged me not to (play goalie). Being a goalie parent is hard, not only financially, but mentally. I think they wish I had done something else. But I'm happy that I went that route."

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She eventually played one season for the Chicago Young Americans 16-and-under girls team and then played two seasons for the Young Americans 19U team before playing at UMD. In 2019, she helped the Young Americans win the bronze medal in 2018 at the USA Hockey Girls Tier I championship.

"I would say that I'm pretty solid technically and I had great coaches growing up," Chobak said. "A lot of the technical movements that I've learned, I think I excel in. I do well at staying calm.

"I like to present a chill, having fun, presence in net. I know that I play better when I'm excited and having fun. I like to maintain that, no matter what the situation is. We had some games (last season) where we were up by a lot and some that we were down by a lot. I think having that balance in mentality and composure is important — not only for me, but for my team as well."

An WCHA All-Academic Team pick last season, Chobak plans to study nursing at St. Cloud State. To be eligible for the All-Academic Team, players must have at least a 3.0 grade-point on a 4.0 scale and be at their institution in the previous two semesters or three quarters.

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
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