International Ice Hockey Federation

Raty’s return

Raty’s return

Finnish goalie back after years in men’s hockey

Published 15.08.2018 16:17 GMT+11 | Author Martin Merk
Raty’s return
Finnish goalie Noora Raty and Jenni Hiirikoski defend the net against Team USA’s Cayla Barnes. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Four years ago it didn’t look like Noora Raty would be back in Olympic ice hockey. But now the Finn is here and had a strong start.

After a disappointing quarter-final exit in Sochi 2014, Raty announced on-site in an open letter that she would leave the national team, and possibly even women’s ice hockey if she were not able to earn a living as a female hockey player.

Once the frustration faded, it eventually turned out different. Looking for opportunities, Raty got a contract in the second-tier men’s league with Kiekko-Vantaa, a team located close to Helsinki’s airport, after a try-out. In the league Hayley Wickenheiser tried it during her heyday.

“I needed the challenge. It will be hard and time will tell. But that’s why the sport is played, to go to your limits and break boundaries as in my motto ‘dream big and aim high’,” Raty said at that time.

Raty had eight games and was eventually loaned to a team in the third-tier Suomi-sarja where she continued for two more seasons until a new challenge arrived at the horizon: Kunlun Red Star, a new team located in Shenzhen, China, but playing in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

“I played years of men’s hockey and absolutely loved it,” Raty said. “Loved the pace and the speed and the physicality. The more you stop the puck, the more they respect you and take you under their wing.”

The CWHL is a league where players start to get paid and where Raty is easily the best starting goaltender in save percentage with a 94.7% rating and earns her living in her role as a player but also as an ambassador for women’s hockey in China as she once described the situation.

Raty had already staged her comeback in IIHF women’s hockey a few month before her transfer. For the first time since the 2014 Olympics she played a big tournament with the Finnish national team from which she had once retired and led the Finns to a bronze medal at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship.

“Once I came back to the women’s game, I was lost because it’s just a different game. I really need to watch my behaviour with girls because how you act with guys doesn’t necessarily work with girls,” she said.

“I was fortunate to build some really good friendships and some of the guys I played with are my best friends in Finland. By my third year I felt like I was one of the guys. I think it was a good sign and a bad thing. It can be a bad thing,” she explained. “I started acting like them and not too girlie. I guess you just have to fit in.”

Coming back to women’s hockey after three years was a difference but she cherishes being able to play professional hockey in a women’s league now. And it prepared her well for her fourth Olympics. In the CWHL she does not only lead all starting goalies in save percentage but also led the Chinese expansion team to second place in the league behind defending champion Montreal Canadiennes. But not only the play, the shots and the physicality in front of the net is different for her.

“It's just a different language. You can be really straightforward with guys. Girls, you need to be a little bit more careful with your words. You need to be really positive with girls, and guys you can say straight to their face, 'Hey, that wasn’t very good'. With girls, you start with the positive and then go for the negative,” she said.

Positive and negative was also her start at the Olympics. With 44 saves and a 95.12% save percentage Raty kept the score against Team USA close but the Finns eventually lost 3-1. Next is Canada. Can Suomi again surprise like in the 2017 Women’s Worlds? Then her 35 saves led the Finns to a sensational 4-3 preliminary-round victory against Canada.

- with files from OIS


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