At Ridder Arena, the Gophers women’s hockey team still refers to Noora Raty as “the best goalie in the world.”
But last month, after her Finland team was knocked from medal contention at the Olympics, Raty said she was ready to retire if she couldn’t advance her career professionally.
After playing in three Olympics and becoming the NCAA women’s hockey career leader in victories (114) and shutouts (43), Raty was ready to hang up her skates — at age 24.
Now, Raty has a new opportunity. She just signed a deal to play in a Finnish men’s professional league next season. Raty has a one-year contract with Kiekko Vantaa of the Mestis League, which is Finland’s second-highest division.
“I practiced with this team for two months before going to Russia for the Olympics,” Raty said. “I was surprised they wanted to sign me. I never thought I could play in that league.”
Raty actually will be the second woman to play in the Mestis League, following Canadian star Hayley Wickenheiser, who played for HC Salamat a decade ago.
And these aren’t the only women’s players making inroads in men’s leagues. Last week, Shannon Szabados, the goaltender who led Canada to the gold medal in Sochi, signed to play in Georgia with the Columbus Cottonmouths in the Southern Professional Hockey League.
Last month, when she thought she might retire, Raty wrote a manifesto and posted it on her Twitter account (@Nooraty41), lamenting the lack of a better women’s professional league. She had played in the one in Russia and knew about the struggles of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.
Raty, who graduated from the university last summer with a degree in journalism, explained that it had simply become too difficult to compete while working another job, trying to pay the bills. She stressed the need for women’s hockey to form a league in the United States or Canada in order to keep growing the sport.
Raty recently returned to Minnesota and plans to work through the summer at the MEGA goaltending academy in Blaine. She said her goal next fall with Kiekko Vantaa is to “earn playing time” and “show that a girl can play with the men.”
Hoping to build off the sport’s momentum from the Olympics, she wants to show that women’s hockey players can thrive professionally, too.