Before 1,120 fans, Noora Raty made Finnish hockey history when she became the first Finnish woman to suit up for play in the Finnish second league, Mestis.
A two-time NCAA champion, Raty has arguably been the gold standard of women’s hockey goaltending. Over her time in the NCAA, she set records for career save percentage (.949), all-time wins (114), and wins in a single season (38). Oh, and she also posted 17 shutouts in a single season, 43 over her career, and has an undefeated season under her belt.
Raty was twice named the NCAA female player of the year, and her list of honors is an exhausting read. That’s why it was so shocking when, following Finland’s elimination from medal contention at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the Finnish goaltender let slip that it may have been her last game – not just for the national team, but entirely.
Citing a lack of true competition, Raty didn’t believe there was anywhere that would make it worth her while to continue pursuing a hockey career. Without proper funding, she saw no way to continue her career while living a normal lifestyle.
“I don’t feel that women’s hockey can grow or get any better in the future if the USA or Canada don’t get a professional league started soon,” Raty said in a statement posted to Twitter following the news that she may retire. “That is the next critical step that our sport needs to take or our sport will never be respected like it should be. Asking players to work full-time and then training like a pro athlete at the same time is just too much and unfair.”
Unfortunately, no women’s leagues were able to suit her needs, and Raty was a free agent, looking to either continue her playing career or start another one altogether. That’s when the Mestis team Kiekko-Vantaa stepped in and signed the now-25-year-old backstopper to a one-year contract.
Before she could get her first taste of second league action, she was demoted to Finalnd’s Suomi-sarja, the third league, where she made her first professional men’s hockey start. Not surprisingly, Raty stopped 30 of the 31 pucks that came her way, helping to lift her team to a 5-1 victory, making her first bit of hockey history in the process.
Wednesday night, Raty added to her legend by becoming the first female player of Finnish descent to suit up in the men’s league. (The first female player in the league was Hayley Wickenheiser who played for HC Salamat.)
In her Mestis debut, Raty stopped 31 of 36 shots as Kiekko-Vantaa fell 5-2. Though she has previously said she doesn't expect to become the team's starting goaltender, there's no doubt she has the ability to steal more than a couple games for the second division club.
Though it may not have been her first victory, Raty’s accomplishment will stand a lifetime and the hockey world can be thankful we didn’t lose an incredible talent too soon.