Periodically, gophersports.com will catch up with Gopher women's hockey alums throughout the upcoming season. This feature of "Where Are They Now?" is former Gopher captain LaToya Clarke. As a member of the Maroon and Gold from 2000-04, Clarke finished her career eighth in school history with 159 points. During her tenure, Clarke scored 67 goals and 92 assists. A team captain in 2004, Clarke and co-captain Kelsey Bills led the Gophers to their first NCAA national championship defeating Harvard, 6-2.
Gophersports: You started your collegiate hockey career in 2000 and finished in 2004. What were some of your most memorable moments during your tenure?
LaToya: There are so many memories that come rushing back when I think about my time at Minnesota. Obviously, the 2004 National Championship was the highlight of my career. I remember the last minute of the game skating around, knowing we’d be National Champions. That and the moments after: looking up to see our cheering, crying parents wearing our Maroon jerseys, being at the bottom of the celebration pile unable to breathe and skating around hugging all the people you’ve worked so hard with and for, every day, to get to that very moment. Words can’t describe how that felt to achieve such a rare thing with a team you love to be around. It felt like such a long road to get there, we had lots of ups and downs that season and it is what I had worked my entire 4 years to get to. Everyone dreams of finishing their collegiate career the way my classmates and I did!
Another memory that is dear to my heart and that I can’t help but choke up thinking about is when we won the 2004 WCHA Tournament Championship against Duluth just 2 weeks before the Frozen Four. After we did our team salute to the crowd around the center ice circle, the 4 of us Seniors stayed behind to salute our families and our fans that had supported us for the past 4 years. We after skated in to the middle towards each other, hugged and had a good cry. Billsy, Coulombe and Jeri are more like my sisters than my teammates or friends.
GS: As a former U of M athlete, what are some things that you have taken away from college and how have you been able to pertain them to everyday life?
LT: To never take anything for granted. Be grateful for all the amazing people I’ve met and the path that got me to where I am. Four years goes by too quick to not enjoy every single moment and detail. Anytime I get to experience something new or get to travel because of work or hockey I take great pride in knowing that all the things that seemed hard or limiting during my U of M career were to prepare me for anything that comes along in the future!
GS: How are you still involved in the sport?
Lt: The sport is my life; hockey is my life, my every day! I work for Warrior Sports, a lacrosse and hockey equipment company, so I am one of the lucky ones who gets to talk hockey all day long! I am also still playing hockey at a high level for the Vaughan Flames in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL). Most of the U.S. and Canadian National team players also play in this league.
GS: Since leaving the U of M campus, what have changed in your life since then?
LT: No more afternoon naps or wearing my general issue sweats every day, all day...it’s very sad.
I’ve also taken up Inline hockey and represented Canada at two World Championships: winning gold in Paris, France and Silver in Dusseldorf, Germany.
GS: I noticed you were the maid of honor in Kelsey Bills’ wedding last winter. Have you been able to keep in touch with a lot of your former teammates now living up in Canada?
LT: Yes, I try to as much as possible. Obviously, it is tough to keep in touch when you live 16 hours away, but I do try to text or call people when I can (but that gets a little pricey because of that little imaginary line called “the border”). I’ve also been back down to the Soter probably four or five times since I graduated...I have to go at least once a year, I miss it too much! I’ve had a few people come to visit as well, Kelsey being one of them. Sometimes we go without talking for a couple months and then we’ll spend two hours one night just catching up...we always tell each other how brutal we are at calling or texting! So when Kelsey asked me to be her maid of honor, I was of course, thrilled! Their wedding was in Alberta (where she is from), so I jumped at the chance to spend some extra time with her and her family...and, of course, see the Rockies! Billsy always told me she’d get me out there to see them for the first time! It was absolutely beautiful!
GS: For people who don’t know, how is hockey different in Canada compared to the U.S. circuit in women’s hockey?
LT: Hockey is quite different up here. We live the game...we all grew up watching Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights and no matter what, dreamed of being in the NHL (doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl). Hockey is everywhere and it seems like everyone plays. Minnesota isn’t much different in that respect but the main thing I’ve noticed is in the support for high school and collegiate athletics. The U.S. seems to put a lot more focus on their school sports and because of that, U.S. women’s high school and collegiate hockey gets a great deal of attention and support. I always thought it was cool when you could see our game highlights on TV or in the paper because here at home you’d be hard pressed to find that kind of coverage for not only women’s but all Canadian University athletics. However, the post-college or university female hockey player doesn’t have many options either go to Europe to play or come here to Canada to play in the CWHL, which is the highest level of competition there is after university hockey. I do think that it is an extremely positive thing that young girls can have role models in women’s hockey through all of the grassroots programs that U.S. colleges and universities are involved with.
GS: A lot of people knew that when you were a student-athlete, your favorite restaurant was Chipotle. Do you still have the Chipotle fever or have you moved on to something else?
LT: Haha! After four years and countless emails to the company, the smart people at Chipotle have come to their senses...the first ever Chipotle International location is in Toronto!!!! It is approximately 40 minutes away from me in downtown T.O. and opened last week...yes, I’ve already been twice (and that’s only because I was out of the province for three of the days). Don’t worry my Soter friends, I will still come back to visit! A lesson to all the kids out there...yell loud enough and your voice will eventually be heard!
GS: What has been your biggest accomplishment (either personally or professionally) since you left the U of M?
LT: I’d say that one of my biggest accomplishments is my career...to love what you do and be passionate about it! I never really knew that the job I’ve always wanted was out there. I just feel extremely lucky to have found it!
I was also, very recently, inducted into the Black Ice Hockey and Sports Hall of Fame, which is an incredible honor and I’ve met many remarkable people because of it.
GS: What do you miss most about being a member of the Gopher women’s hockey team?
LT: My teammates, the staff and the GWH supporters. Each and everyone I’ve met during my time there has a place in my heart.
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