Union women’s hockey goalie Matsoukas providing spark for team

Union College freshman Sophie Matsoukas was named ECAC Goalie and Rookie of the Month for December. (Photo courtesy Union Athletics)

Union College freshman Sophie Matsoukas was named ECAC Goalie and Rookie of the Month for December. (Photo courtesy Union Athletics)

SCHENECTADY — When Sophie Matsoukas was growing up in Ottawa, Ontario, she tried to be a goaltender.

It was a rough start.

“I was just starting [to play] girls’ hockey, and I just said that I wanted to try this out,” Matsoukas said. “Honestly, I played the game and I let in seven goals. I was like, ‘I’m never doing this again.’ But then I figured that I would try it again. I kept pushing, and I was doing goalie clinics and I enjoyed it so much that I was like, this is something I want to do.”

The hard work is paying off for Matsoukas.

Last week, the Union College freshman was named ECAC Hockey Rookie of the Month and Goalie of the Month for December. She played in three games, posting a 2-0 record with a 0.71 goals-against average, a .978 save percentage and one shutout.

“I was a little bit shocked at first, but it felt great to receive those awards, and it felt great for the program, as well,” Matsoukas said. “I couldn’t have done that without the players in front of me. It was a reward for me, but for the team as well, so I was glad about that.”

A day after limiting Harvard to one goal in the final 47:14 of the game after the Crismon scored four against starter Olivia Rinzel, Matsoukas stopped 39 shots in a 2-1 win over Dartmouth at Thompson Arena in Hanover, New Hampshire, on Dec. 4 that snapped the Dutchwomen’s 16-game winless streak.

Matsoukas got the start Dec. 10 against Franklin Pierce at Messa Rink and made 20 saves in a 4-0 victory for her first career collegiate shutout.

As the Dutchwomen prepare to resume play this weekend after a 35-day layoff when they host ECAC Hockey-rival Quinnipiac at 3 p.m. Friday at Messa Rink, Matsoukas is emerging as the team’s No. 1 goalie.

“I’ve just got to keep working hard and keep being there,” said Matsoukas, a biochemistry major who is 2-4 with a 3.51 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage. “Hopefully, for me, that will come my way.”

Union head coach Josh Sciba started seeing Matsokas’ potential in her first start of the season Oct. 12 at Syracuse. Even though the Dutchwomen dropped a 5-0 decision to the Orange, Matsoukas made 38 saves,

“She played well,” Sciba said. “She made a ton of stops. Obviously, she didn’t see [a winning] result at that time. Now, she saw a couple of more [winning] results. I was really impressed. She came in cold off the bench at Harvard and shut the door after a tough start there and came back the next night and played extremely well. The first game against Franklin Pierce, I thought we were the better team that night but she made five or six Grade-A [saves]. We needed her to make some big saves.”

Matsoukas believes her confidence is growing.

“I think the more I play, the more confidence I’m getting, and the more I feel that my team is confident in me being in the net, I am more confident being in there,” Matsoukas said. “It gives me a confidence boost, and I know they like when I’m in there and like that they feel confident.”

Her teammates see it, too.

“She’s been amazing,” Union forward Grace Heiting said. “Obviously, we know her pretty well. Just her character being so humble and relaxed and calm in the net. Just even her demeanor has been so important for our group, let alone posting a shutout and [making] a lot of saves and some wins. We know she’s going to keep building off of that.”

Prior to coming to Union, Matosukas played for the Ontario Hockey Academy. The team didn’t play last season because of the coronavirus pandemic. In the 2019-20 season, Matsoukas posted an 0.47 GAA in 26 games.

However, that impressive GAA didn’t grab the attention of most NCAA Division I women’s hockey teams.

“Sometimes when you play for programs that goaltenders might not get the exposure that they sometimes deserve,” Scibia said. “She played for a program that I wouldn’t say that they’re a very successful program every year. They develop a lot of players and send a lot of players to Division I. She was in a situation where she could face a ton of shots. She was put in place to be a big part of what they were doing, and she kept the team in a lot of games and she was challenged appropriately.

“For us, going through the recruiting process, we wanted someone like that because we knew she was going to come into the same type of environment here where she’s going to have to stop 30-plus shots a night and going to have to make some big saves here and there and someone that can handle that with the kind of calm and poise that we look for.”

Matsoukas is very happy with how things worked out.

“I’m in the right spot where I am right now,” Matsoukas said.

GAME POSTPONED

Sciba said that Union’s game Friday against Princeton was postponed because Princeton didn’t have enough players to compete. The game will be rescheduled.

Categories: College Sports, Sports

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