International Ice Hockey Federation

20 questions for Noora Raty

20 questions for Noora Raty

Finnish goalie shines with Kunlun Red Star

Published 15.08.2018 16:17 GMT+11 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
20 questions for Noora Raty
Currently preparing for her fourth Olympics in PyeongChang, Noora Raty backstopped Finland to bronze at the 2017 Women's Worlds. Photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
If anyone can prepare for two Olympics at the same time, it’s Noora Raty.

The 28-year-old Finnish superstar goalie is always ready to embrace a new challenge. Suiting up for Kunlun Red Star, an expansion Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) franchise in China, certainly fits that description.

With the CWHL paying its players for the first time this season (a stipend of between $2,000 and $10,000 CDN per player), Raty is fine-tuning her game abroad to get ready for the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, Korea. The Espoo native is accustomed to adventures, as she’s previously played in the United States, Russia, and the second- and third-division Finnish men’s leagues (2015-17). However, this commitment, which will involve three regular-season road trips to North America in 2017/18, takes it to a new level.

Raty, who owns a 2010 Olympic bronze medal and four Women’s Worlds bronze medals (2008, 2009, 2011, 2017), is also an ambassador for her club in Shenzen, a city of 11.9 million people in the southern province of Guangdong next to Hong Kong. And the existence of Red Star – along with another new Shenzen-based CWHL team, the Vanke Rays – reflects the Chinese government’s desire to ice a competitive team at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing and develop hockey in this nation of 1.38 billion.

Raty, Red Star’s first-round pick in the 2017 draft, is a true student of the game, ultra-professional in her approach. The three-time Olympian is the all-time winningest female goalie in NCAA history (114 wins with the University of Minnesota from 2010 to 2013). While Chinese players make up half of Kunlun’s roster, Raty’s teammates also include former U.S. world champions like Kelli Stack, Zoe Hickel, Shiann Darkangelo, and Stephanie Anderson.

Relentlessly devoted to her training, Raty doubles as Mega Goaltending’s girls’ director of development in Minneapolis. She’s never been afraid to speak her mind, and it’s no surprise she earned a B.A. in journalism and mass communications. We caught up with her recently with 20 questions on her newest adventure.

1. How did you originally get invited to join Kunlun Red Star?

Red Star coach Rob Morgan reached out to my University of Minnesota coach, Brad Frost, and Brad then told me about it. That same day, I was on the phone with Rob, and I was all in right away after I heard about their vision for the club and how they want to grow the game globally. I feel very honoured to be chosen as an ambassador and goalie for Red Star.

2. What was your typical daily routine in China this summer?

We actually did not end up being in Shenzhen for as long as we’d planned, due to high humidity at our rink. The ice was not good enough to skate on. Thus, we moved to Beijing in the last week of August, and there our training days looked something like this: 6 a.m. wake up, one or two hours of lifting, breakfast, bus to the rink, warm-up, two hours of on-ice practice, cool down, bus back to the hotel, lunch, and free time for the rest of the day.

3. Eleven Finns played for Kunlun’s KHL team in 2016/17, and there are several on the roster this year as well. Did you get their advice before coming over?

Yes, I talked to a few of them about their experiences and how to prepare for a new culture.

4. What have been some of your favourite experiences working with young Chinese athletes so far?

Just seeing the progress they’ve already made in a month on and off the ice makes me smile and feel excited. The Chinese are really willing to learn from us, and can adopt information quickly, which makes our jobs easy. It’s also been exciting to learn about a new culture and language, and to explore China, such as the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.

5. What was your visit to the Great Wall like?

The Great Wall was awesome. It was neat to cross that off my bucket list. It was also a great stair workout. I think my calves were burning for a week after that.

6. Are there strengths and weaknesses that stand out for the Chinese players?

I think the Chinese strengths definitely are coachability, discipline and work ethic. Also, because they are all away from home year round, they are a really close group, like a family. Some things they still need to work on before the 2022 Olympics include individual skills such as skating and shooting, plus fitness (strength and stamina) and nutrition.

7. What do you think of the Shenzen Dayun Arena and your training facilities?

Shenzhen is the perfect set-up for training when it comes to facilities. They built a new practice rink, locker room, players’ lounge, gym, training room, and so on for us. Our game rink is in the same complex and holds 18,000 people. They also built an apartment building with a dining hall for us right next to the rink, and the whole team lives there.

The Shenzhen weather is also very nice, as it’s warm year round. I’m definitely not going to miss the dark and cold winter we have in Finland. I’m very excited to get back to Shenzhen in November and play some home games there.

8. How are your Chinese language skills?

My Chinese language skills are still pretty weak, but my goal is to learn one word a day. So far I think I’m doing okay on that. It’s definitely not the easiest language.

9. How are you enjoying the Chinese food? Have you brought along any favourite foods from Finland or North America?

I enjoy Chinese food as long as it’s clean and nutritious. I try to eat gluten-free and they love noodles, so sometimes my options are pretty limited. It’s a good thing they also like rice, so that’s always an option for me.

Our team also provides healthy Western-style food at meals, so there’s always something to eat for everyone. I brought some Finnish coffee, and one of my suitcases was actually full of supplements when I travelled to Shenzhen to make sure I’m treating my body right.

10. After the 2014 Sochi Olympics, you decided to play men’s hockey for several years because you felt the women’s game wasn’t offering you enough. What made you come back to IIHF competition?

I truly enjoyed the challenge of playing men’s pro hockey, but it didn’t prepare me well for the games with the Finnish women’s national team. The speed and style of play in men’s hockey is so different from women’s, so I just felt off and lost every time I went to play with the national team.

Since 2017/18 is the Olympic season, I wanted to make sure I’m as prepared as I can be, and thus going back to the women’s game is the right choice. I’ve also always wanted to play in the CWHL, and now I have a chance to be part of the best “pro” league in the world. So I’m very excited about that.

11. How did you feel about the deal that the U.S. women negotiated with USA Hockey before the 2017 Women’s Worlds?

I think it was great for their country and the sport in general. For me personally, it’s important to make sure the future of women’s hockey is treated better than my generation was. I hope once they graduate from college, they have more opportunities to create a career from playing.

12. You made 35 saves when Finland beat Canada 4-3 at the 2017 Women’s Worlds in Plymouth – your nation’s first victory ever over the Canadians. What did that mean for Finland?

I think it was a big confidence-builder for us to finally beat them in IIHF competition. I’ve been on the national team for 12 years now, and that was my first win against Canada, so it definitely felt good. However, it was just a round-robin game and the win didn’t really help us in the tournament. So now the next step is to beat them in a big game, such as the semi-finals.

13. Susanna Tapani had a breakout tournament in Plymouth, leading Finland with three goals and six assists. What do you think of her progress?

In my opinion, Susanna has been one of our best players since the Sochi Olympics. She just didn’t show up on the scoresheet until Plymouth, so people maybe didn’t pay so much attention to her. I think she is one of the best skaters in women’s hockey, if not the best. So I would not say it was her breakout tournament, but she was finally able to put up some points, which was nice to see.

14. Your national team still has one star from the original Women's Worlds in 1990 and the first Olympics in 1998. What enables Riikka Valila to remain a scoring threat at age 44?

Riikka is a true women’s hockey pioneer. I really look up to her, and it’s a true honour to be her teammate. She is one of the most physically fit players on our team. I think that’s why she is still able to play on such a high level. She is a true example of how every player should take care of her or his body day in and day out.

15. On game days, Miikka Kiprusoff used to spend a total of three hours stretching. How fanatical are you about stretching?

I try to stay away from long stretches on a game day, as those make me feel too loose, slow and relaxed. Instead, I favour dynamic stretching on game days to keep my muscles more receptive and explosive.

16. What kind of music do you play while you’re working out or before a game?

I’m not a big fan of music, but during my workouts I usually listen to a pop or country station on Spotify. Before a game I actually prefer silence and no music, as I want to feel calm. I’ve noticed music makes me too pumped up for the game, which easily leads to overplaying and not being patient enough.

17. Who are some other goalies you like to keep in touch with?

My boyfriend Karel Popper used to be a goalie, so I guess he is one of them. Lots of great goalie talks in our relationship – ha! I also became really good friends with a former national team goalie, Maija Hassinen, while we were both on the team. We get together once in a while if I happen to be in Finland.

18. What’s your opinion on the NHL’s ongoing mission to reduce the size of goalie equipment?

I guess I haven’t paid much attention to it, as it’s not affecting my gear or play. But I’ve noticed goalies in the NHL are now much more mobile and move better on their edges. They can’t just drop down to the butterfly and hope to get hit, even if most of them are 6-foot-5.

Anyway, goaltending will keep evolving no matter what, and I don’t think gear size will have much effect on our performance. Goalies will always adjust when changes are made.

19. With the NHL not slated to participate in the men’s tournament in PyeongChang, is there an opportunity for women’s hockey to gain additional exposure?

The Olympics are supposed to bring the best athletes around the world together, so I was bummed when I heard the NHL would not participate. But at the same time, I respect their decision. I don’t think it will have much effect on women’s hockey, but I’m sure our sport is happy to take all the extra exposure we can get. We have so many great stories to tell!

20. What are your goals for the 2018 Olympics?

My personal goal is to give my team a chance to win in every game. As a team, our goal is to win a medal after a disappointing fifth-place finish in 2014.


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