Tatiana Rafter is a pioneer — a professional hockey player for the Buffalo Beauts in the NWHL. A native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, she has uprooted her life to follow her dream of playing professional hockey on the other side of the continent. The 23-year-old has surely been through some ups and downs as well as highs and lows since the inaugural NWHL season started in October. Now, with the playoffs quickly approaching, Rafter has agreed to give The Hockey Writers a small glimpse into her daily world, and will be penning a diary/blog for us.
In fact, she was so enthusiastic and excited about the opportunity (we are too) that she decided to give us all a little introduction into who she is, how she prepares for a game, as well as how grateful and humbled she is to be in a position to really make a difference in young girls (and kids) lives.
Arriving at hotel in Stamford, CT – February 6th
For me, this season has been so many things. It has been both challenging and rewarding. Ultimately, it was a year of transitions and a season filled with adversity. I moved from the west coast to the east coast. I am a role model. I am a coach. I am a teammate. I am one of just 72 other women that make up the first wave of women’s professional hockey players. I am part of a story that is still being written.
I remember the first interview I had after signing with the Buffalo Beauts. It was in August, the sun was shining and I sat outside in the back yard as planes flew over my childhood home in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I was asked about how I felt personally — to be a part of the inaugural season of women’s pro hockey. My answer was that, ‘I’m excited to play for the Beauts because every time I lace up my skates I will be a part of history.’ Since that conversation I have realized how much of an impact you can have even when your skates aren’t laced up.
— Buffalo Beauts (@BuffaloBeauts) January 19, 2016
In my time spent as a Beaut I have realized the importance of being involved within the community and how much the young girls and women look up to you, even when off the ice. I think that being a professional athlete has been so humbling because it has allowed me to embrace the privilege of being a role model. It allows me to have a voice and the ability to impact and inspire others. That is why the NWHL playoffs are so historic. It serves as so much more than a platform for women’s professional sports. It is creating an opportunity for women to feel empowered and that’s an incredible thing to be involved with. I feel blessed every day.
This is not to say that this season hasn’t gone without its challenges but I find that ultimately I have become stronger. I found that the part of my game I have improved the most is the mental part. It has been an amazing experience entering into the professional domain because the limits, both mental and physical, are pushed and comfort zones are broken. Right now I am in my hotel room in Stamford, Connecticut. We had a 7am practice this morning in Buffalo and made our way out to CT shortly after. Tomorrow we are playing in Danbury so it looks like an early rise followed by an hour-long bus trip to the rink.
I have done some preparation today. First and foremost I got some zzz’s on the bus ride and once I was at the hotel I watched some game film. I find that it allows me to start to mentally focus on the game when I sit down and watch these videos. Today I watched the first period of a game against the Connecticut Whale that we played earlier in the season. I am starting off the game playing forward but (head coach) Ric Seiling told me today that there is a chance I am going back and forth between the point and wing. Therefore, I watched the period once through the eye of a forward and once as a D, just so I could feel mentally at ease when I go to sleep tonight.
As I watched the period I looked for details that will help me be successful on the ice.
I think about how I want to play and what my skill sets are. What makes me an effective player?
- I have size – I can win battles.
- I have an accurate shot – I need to shoot the puck vs. making that extra move.
- I have speed – I have to move my feet away from the puck.
One of the most important things I offer is my physical presence. I am 5’10” and I look like a tree out there (haha). I have the ability to cut to the far post off a rush. This is something that I need to be up for tomorrow. I need to drive the net, I need to shoot, and I need to follow my shot.
“Stop, don’t loop.” I remind myself.
— NWHL Gifs (@nwhlgifs) January 5, 2016
These are types of things I will write out or think about the night before a game, just to reflect upon my past play, in order to figure out what I need to tune up.
I won’t think too much more about this until I’m on the bus to the rink tomorrow. I like to have fun with my teammates at engagements prior to the bus ride. Once I am settled in my seat, I will write out my controllables on a loose-leaf notebook. They rarely change because they are my keys to success – the things that are specific to me, and what make me myself on the ice. My notes are part of my integral pre-game mental preparation, and are what it takes for me to be an impact player on the ice.
My note will most likely read something like:
Key to Success:
– Use Size, Win Battles
– Shoot the Puck
– Use Speed
– Drive the Net
– Play with Confidence
– Trust Yourself
– Have Fun!
I will rip this paper out and tape it to my stall or a place close to me so that if I need to reflect on how I am playing between periods, I can look back at the things I can control. If I am struggling in a game, usually one of these areas isn’t coming through in my play.
— Tatiana Rafter (@tatianarafter) February 7, 2016
Well it is 11pm and I am up at 8am for team Breaky (breakfast) so I’m signing out! My roommate Kourtney Kunichika is already catching some zzz’s!!
Post Game – February 7th
Today it was a bit of a rough start. Whoever stayed in our room last set the alarm for 6:23am….I want to say thank you to that person, I hate getting an 8-hour sleep ;). Kourtney and I both thought it was each other’s alarms so it went off for five minutes at least before we figured out how to hit snooze haha! We had Breaky at 8am at the hotel and had to get our things together for 9am. We stayed in Stamford and the game was in Danbury, so we had an hour cruise and snooze to the rink.
After arriving at the rink we got set up in the dressing room and I did some usual pre game routines.
- I taped my stick — white of course.
- I also like to play keep-up with some of my teammates before the game. I have improved significantly since the beginning of the year haha… not to pump my own tires (I’m by no means Abby Wambach).
— Tatiana Rafter (@tatianarafter) February 7, 2016
I had a ton of fun in the off-ice warm up and enjoyed my teammates camaraderie. I think that my team is so special because we have fun and make the most out of any situation. We are truly a team. On ice warm up went well, but it was strange starting at noon instead of the usual 3:30pm start.
I stuck to my game plan. I felt that I kept my feet going hard throughout the whole game, and I am starting to take the puck to the net more. I’ve found my confidence at this point in the year and I just need to keep trusting in the process. We ended up on the losing side with 3-2 being the final score for CT in OT. This isn’t the end though. We may see CT again in the playoffs and it will be a battle. Playoffs are nearing and it will be a new season in itself.
— Buffalo Beauts (@BuffaloBeauts) January 16, 2016
The Founding Four all make the playoffs so the regular season seems to serve as a way to find team unity and push limits so that we are ready when it comes to the playoff series. The next few weeks we face New York twice, once away and once at home, then a game against Boston to finish off the regular season. In five weeks from now, a player from the founding four will be hoisting the Isobel Cup above their heads.
This will be a historic moment and one that will mark a milestone for women’s professional hockey. Like I said earlier, there are 72 hearts involved in the battle for their teams history; I will be there throughout playoffs to take you behind the scenes and hopefully all the way to the Isobel Cup.
I would write more but being on a bus with all these BEAUTIES is a bit distracting, and I am having some major FOMO.
Thank you so much for reading and I will catch you in print again in a few weeks!
Thanks to Karmen Clark for assisting in editing this piece.
If you have any questions that you would like answered more in-depth, my fan mail address is:
100 Washington Street
Buffalo, New York 14203
Lots of Buffalove,
P.S. FOMO = Fear Of Missing Out (haha!)
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.