Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Who Is Noora Raty?

It seems there are a lot of people asking who Noora Raty is after her performances against the Americans and Canadians at the Sochi Winter Olympics. This is kind of surprising to me considering that she played in the backyard of most Americans while going to school there. It's not like she is some undiscovered entity that had been toiling in the darkness of Finland for four months every year. No, Noora Raty has been one of the better goaltenders since she first pulled on a Finnish national team jersey at the age of 15. Now 24, Raty is ready to break out as one of the game's best netminders of all-time, and she's using the Sochi Olympic Games to prove she belongs amongst the greats.

The last team that the Americans lost to in any international, non-exhibition tournament? Finland. Noora Raty, pronounced ra-TOO, backstopped the Finns to a 3-1 victory, stopping 58 American shots in the process at the Four Nations Cup. Like so many upsets before in hockey, a hot goaltender can directly affect the outcome in a tournament, especially in a one-game elimination playoff. Raty is proving that again in these Olympics as she's stopped 103 of 112 shots she's faced in all three games the Finns have played. Only Switzerland has faced more shots as a team than Raty. So if the question needs to be asked, Raty is one heckuva goalie.

Ratu was born May 29, 1989 to Jarmo and Ulla Raty in Espoo, Finland. Raty grew up playing hockey at the age of five in Espoo against both boys and girls, but it was in high school where the youngster was discovered for her play. She was named as the best player at Haukilahti High School in both 2006 and 2008, and she was named to Team Finland for the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Torino, Italy at the age of 16! Finland finished fourth, losing the bronze-medal game to the powerful American team by a 4-0 score. Not bad for a high school kid, right? Oh, and she was named as Finland's Best Women's Ice Hockey Player in 2007 and 2008, and the country's best goaltender in 2006 and 2007. Yeah, that's pretty good.

While she was honing her skills in high school, she began playing with the Espoo Vortex, aka EPS, in Finland in the third-division of Finnish hockey. This is the same team that developed Teemu Selanne and a number of highly-skilled Finnish Elite League players, and works as a feeder team to the Espoo Blues. With the women's version of the Espoo Blues, Raty helped the team capture three-straight Finnish championships in 2006, 2007, and 2008 to help push her legend further in Finland.

Well, she followed the 2006 Olympic Games by being named as the best goaltender at the 2007 Women's World Championship, but again missed out on a medal as Sweden dropped Finland 1-0 in the bronze-medal match at MTS Centre in Winnipeg. She led the Finns into Harbin, China for the 2008 Women's World Championship, and did the unthinkable in shutting out the Americans in a 1-0 overtime victory in the qualifying round. Thanks to a Switzerland upset of Sweden, Raty and the Finns would finally capture a medal as they downed the Swiss 4-1 in the bronze-medal match! And to add another set of accolades for Raty, she was named to the All-Star team, named as the tournament's best goaltender, and named as the tournament's MVP!

The 2009 Women's World Championship would see Raty make 27 saves against the Swedes in the bronze-medal game as Finland captured the bronze medal with a 4-1 victory over their Scandinavian rivals. Finland won their pool over Switzerland and Kazakhstan, outscoring their opponents 13-3 before being bombed by Canada and the US in the qualifying round by a combined 15-0 score. Raty adds another bronze medal to her trophy case with the win over Sweden to end her 2008-09 hockey calendar.

From Finland, Raty decided to pursue her education in the United States by enrolling at the hockey-powerhouse University of Minnesota in 2009. Finland's top goaltender on the women's side joined a blossoming group of women, and the Golden Gophers suddenly had themselves the stopper they needed to be one of the nation's best. And both Minnesota and Raty didn't disappoint. Her first year tending the nets for Minnesota went like this:
  • First Team All-American.
  • Patty Kazmaier Award finalist as the nation's best player.
  • 1.33 GAA average - third-best in the nation.
  • .948 save percentage - fourth-best in the nation.
  • Conference-best 0.94 GAA against WCHA team.
  • First Team All-WCHA Team.
  • WCHA All-Rookie Team.
  • 18-4-4 in conference play, including seven shutouts.
  • Set the record for most assists in one season for a goalie (3).
And just to make things a little more exciting, Raty left at the beginning of Feburary to travel to Vancouver, BC for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Despite losing to the Canadians in the semi-final by a 5-0 score after making 45 saves, Raty and the Finns bounced back and beat the Swedes, who beat them for the bronze in 2006, by a 3-2 overtime score! Raty stopped 16 shots to help the Finns move into third-place in the world of women's hockey before returning to the University of Minnesota to finish NCAA play in the 2009-10 season. The Golden Gophers would advance to the NCAA Championship semi-final where they would fall to conference- and state-rival University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs by a 3-2 score. The Bulldogs would go on to win the NCAA Championship. So it's not quite the way that Raty would have liked to finish the season, but it certainly was an outstanding freshman season for the goaltender!

The 2010-11 NCAA season started with a bang as Raty opened her sophomore season with four-straight shutouts. The Gophers battled all season against conference-rivals Wisconsin and Minnesota-Duluth, eventually finishing as the third-ranked team in the nation with an 18-8-2 conference record. Raty posted an impressive 25-8-2 record in NCAA play, setting the University of Minnesota record for wins in a season. She also set a school record and tied for first in the country with nine shutouts on the season, and recorded the following honours:
  • Patty Kazmaier Award top-ten finalist.
  • Second Team All-American.
  • First Team All-WCHA Team.
  • WCHA All-Tournament Team.
  • WCHA All-Academic Team.
  • 1.77 GAA and a .941 save percentage.
  • 1.70 GAA in conference play.
The Golden Gophers would meet up with Boston College in the regional matchups for the right to go to the Frozen Four tournament. The Eagles, led by goaltender Molly Schaus and forward Kellie Stack, would beat the Gophers 4-1, ending Minnesota's season. Stack had a pair of goals past Raty, and the Gophers' netminder would be denied college's greatest award once more in her sophomore year.

The 2011 Women's World Hockey Championship saw the same two teams battle for gold and silver, and the Finns would find themselves in the bronze-medal game once more. Finland defeated Sweden in the quarterfinal by a 5-1 score before Canada defeated Finland 4-1 in the semi-final to put Finland into the third-place game, and they would find themselves against a new opponent in this game as Russia arrived looking to medal. In an rather exciting game that went back-and-forth, Russia battled Finland to a 2-2 tie through sixty minutes, giving way to overtime where Finnish forward Karoliina Rantamaki scored the game-winner! Raty stopped 35 shots to help Finland to yet another bronze medal as Finland won 3-2 in overtime.

Raty would enter her junior year looking for redemption at the NCAA level. The Gophers opened the pre-season rankings as the fourth-ranked team in the nation, and they would battle all season against Wisconsin and Minnesota-Duluth once again. Minnesota would finish the season as the second-ranked team in the nation behind Wisconsin, and would finish second in the WCHA with a 21-5-2 record behind the Badgers as well.

Raty started 40 of 41 games for the Gophers, leading the nation in goals-against-average with 1.35 and shutouts with ten. Her stellar play helped the Gophers move to the top of the rankings by January 9, but Wisconsin would bump them back to second-place by February. Raty set the school record for wins in a season with 35, breaking her own mark of 25 that she set the year before. She also holds the career shutout mark for Minnesota goaltenders with 26. Amongst her accomplishments this season, Raty received:
  • Tournament MVP in the WCHA Playoffs.
  • Frozen Four MVP.
  • Third-straight nomination for the Patty Kazmaier Award.
  • Third Team All-WCHA Team.
  • 1.35 GAA and a .942 save percentage.
The Frozen Four saw Minnesota down conference-rival North Dakota by a 5-1 score in the quarterfinals and then defeat third-ranked Cornell 3-1 in the semi-final, setting up the ultimate showdown in NCAA Women's Hockey as top-ranked Wisconsin emerged from the other side of the tournament's bracket. Alex Rigsby and Noora Raty would battle in the first period of this game, but Minnesota would emerge VICTORIOUS to win the NCAA Championship by a 4-2 score! Raty, seen to the right tossing her stick in celebration of the win helped the Gophers captured the school's third NCAA women's hockey title in its history! Now that's how you finish a season!

There were many who saw Finland as the odds-on favorite to be the third team to medal again at the Women's World Championship, and they certainly looked like a good possibility after downing Sweden by a 2-1 score in the quarterfinal. They met Canada in the semi-final once more, and, like previous tournaments, Canada dispatched the Finns by a 5-1 score once again.

This set up a bronze-medal matchup against Switzerland who had lost to Team USA 10-0 in their semi-final. Finland carried the play in the first period, but the two teams retired to their dressing rooms tied 2-2. In the second period, it was all Finns as they threw 24 shots on Swiss goalie Florence Schelling, but it was Switzerland who scored the only goal on Raty on one of their five shots. And Switzerland would pile on in third period, adding three more goals, to take the bronze medal by a 6-2 score. So while Raty captured an NCAA Championship, she fell short in capturing another medal on the world's stage.

The 2012-13 NCAA season was one for the record books for the Minnesota Golden Gophers, and Noora Raty played a large part in helping to make history during her senior year. Raty started 38 games and posted a 38-0-0 record, setting the NCAA and Minnesota records for wins in a season and the record for winning percentage at 1.000. She led the nation in save percentage at .956 and was second in goals-against-average at 0.96. She set the NCAA record for shutouts in a season with 17. She set the NCAA career records for wins at 114 and shutouts at 43. She had a five-game shutout streak. Raty set a career-high for saves in a game with 50 in a triple-overtime win over North Dakota on March 16, 2013. Amongst her many accolades in 2012-13, she also recorded the following honours:
  • Patty Kazamier Award top-three finalist.
  • First Team All-American.
  • Capital One Academic All-American.
  • USCHO.com Co-Player of the Year.
  • First Team All-WCHA Team.
  • WCHA Scholar-Athlete Award.
  • 2013 WCHA Goaltending Champion.
  • WCHA Academic Team.
  • Big Ten Medal of Honor.
  • WCHA All-Tournament Team.
  • WCHA Tournament MVP.
  • NCAA All-Tournament Team.
  • Frozen Four MVP.
Raty and the undefeated Golden Gophers entered the Women's Frozen Four as the top-seed in women's collegiate hockey, and faced North Dakota in their opening round's game. North Dakota, being a conference rival, knew a lot about the Gophers, taking them to triple-overtime before Kelly Terry scored at the 18:51 mark of the sixth period! Raty made 50 saves in the game, including 19 in the three overtime periods!

With the win, Minnesota moved on to play the fourth-ranked Boston College Eagles. This game would again be knotted at 2-2 after sixty minutes, requiring overtime to decide who would play for the NCAA Championship. However, it only took 1:39 to find out who, and it would be Minnesota advancing thanks to Sarah Davis' goal. Raty made 26 of 28 saves in the game, including one in overtime, to give Minnesota a chance at defending the NCAA Championship and keep the undefeated streak alive!

In the NCAA Championship game, the Golden Gophers would meet the third-ranked Boston University Terriers and this one would start out close as Minnesota took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission. However, with two goals in the second and another pair in the third period, the Gophers skated to a 6-3 victory and a second NCAA Championship! Raty stopped 21 of 24 shots in the victory in helping the Gophers capture their second-straight NCAA Championship!

Raty graduated from the University of Minnesota in the August of 2013 with a Bachelor's of Art degree in Journalism and Mass Communications and a minor in Sport Management. She's intelligent, she's an athlete, and she's on Twitter! In other words, she's a regular 24 year-old girl who simply is one of the best women to ever play the game of hockey. Oh, and as stated above, she recently helped Finland to a silver medal at the Four Nations Cup in November 2013.

So there's a history of why Noora Ratu should be a household name in North America when it comes to women's hockey. She's been a large part of why Finland has always been a threat at any tournament. If you don't know Noora Raty by now, I'm not sure there's anything else I can tell you. But I can tell you that I have been a fan of Noora Raty for a long time, and that she should have a spot reserved for her in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

She may only be 24, but she's already done a lot more than most hockey players have in terms of being at the top of her game, growing the game, and giving back to the game in Finland and across the world.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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