Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Raty vs. Raisanen the greatest moment in 2015-16 season

In a season filled with many exciting moments, from the inaugural NWHL season to Boston College going undefeated in the regular season, an unknown Valerie Lamenta claiming the Brodrick Trophy, two overtime thrillers for the US in IIHF play, plus a historic Clarkson Cup for the Calgary Inferno, one moment shone above all. Taking place in Finland, it was an event that truly signified the growth of women’s ice hockey and the potential for this generation of players (and the next) to keep breaking barriers.

Having both competed with Finland’s national team, goaltenders Noora Raty, 26, and Meeri Raisanen, 25, are among two of the world’s finest. Among Raisanen’s finest accomplishments, she backstopped Finland to a bronze medal at the 2015 IIHF Women’s Worlds, while Raty also obtained bronze at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games.

Although both played at the NCAA level in the United States, neither had played each other there. Raty with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, helped the team to an undefeated season as a senior. Raisanen would spend the 2010-11 season with the Robert Morris Colonials (based near Pittsburgh), but struggled with a 3-8-4 record.

In November 2015, Raty and Raisanen would become opponents, but not in the expected setting of a women’s league. Instead, the two were on opposite ends of the ice during a contest in the Suomi-Sarja (men’s third league in Finland), an unprecedented first in hockey history.

Considering that professional hockey in North America has never seen two women’s goaltenders go head-to-head in regular season or playoff competition, it was a match that generated headlines on both sides of the Atlantic. Sadly, only 70 people were in attendance for the historic match.

According to Finnish outlet Ilta-Sanomat, both team’s head coaches were in agreement that the two would play each other when the two teams faced off for the first time in the season. Ironically, both coaches, Joni Petrell (KJT) and Tommi Nekkula (D-Kiekko) were no longer with the team by the time that the game took place. Instead, Jarmo Raiha (KJT) and Jari Tapper (D-Kiekko) occupied the position but remained faithful to the decision of their predecessors.

Standing between the pipes for KJT, Raty, who fought the flu and nearly did not play, would emerge victorious against D-Kiekko, which saw Raisanen guard their crease. Despite a 5-2 final, it was a closely contested game throughout the first two periods. As a side note, the referees for this historic match were Pekka Kemppinen, Tom Lonnqvist, Jussi Hanninen

Otto Leppanen would make his mark in this historic contest. From the outset, he scored the game’s opening goal, as KJT enjoyed a 1-0 lead after one period of play.

During the second stanza, both teams managed to find the back of the net, adding to the intensity. Saku Piha would bury the puck past Raisanen as KJT enjoyed a 2-0 advantage. With Raty continuously denying D-Kiekko of scoring opportunities, the opportunity of a shutout would have only added to the feeling of history.

Such momentum was not meant to be. With 2:01 left, D-Kiekko broke Raty’s shutout bid as Aku Palsola scored. Assists were credited to Henri Niemi and Joni Kumpulainen as KJT’s lead was reduced. The third period would result in more scoring, although the outcome in the game’s final minutes was entirely unforeseen.

Merely 37 seconds into the third period, Kumpulainen aided his own cause, tying the score at 2-apiece. It marked the first time in the game that D-Kiekko was able to overcome a deficit and tie the score. Tomi Martikainen and Samuli Paananen logged the assists in a valiant effort.

With the tie score, the result was a defensive stalemate for over 10 minutes of play. Raty continued to provide KJT with an opportunity to remain competitive, as D-Kiekko tried to gain its first lead of the game.

Instead, the momentum would turn in KJT’s favor as Leppanen scored his second goal of the game. Scored at the 51:56 mark, said goal would stand as the game winner, with Piha gaining the assist for his second point of the game.

Raty would continue to be tested as the period progressed. With less than three minutes remaining, the score was still 3-2 in favor of KJT. Opting for an extra attacker, D-Kiekko played with an empty net, removing Raisanen from the game.

Capitalizing on the empty net, Leppanen would get the hat trick on an unassisted goal at the 58:15 mark. Undeterred, D-Kiekko continued to play with the extra attacker, leaving Raisanen on the bench. The result was another KJT goal, as Joel Narhi buried the puck with only 13 seconds remaining in a 5-2 final.

Undoubtedly, Raty proved to be the most valuable player of the game. She was crucial throughout as D-Kiekko outshot KJT by an astounding 17-2 margin in the third period. Of note, KJT was also outshot in the first two periods, 7-5 in the first, followed by a 12-7 mark in the second. Raty would record 36 saves, compared to just 14 for Raisanen.

Last season, Raty had also played in Finnish men’s hockey. Starting with the Mestis-league (second division play), Raty stood between the pipes for Kiekko-Vantaa, seeing action in 8 games. Before season’s end, she would also make six appearances with Bewe Tuus Ki, a club in the Suomi-Sarja league. Perhaps the most unique aspect of her season was the fact that her Minions-themed hockey mask was considered one of the most stylish masks in all of hockey, male and female.

Raisanen has seen action for two clubs this season, although different from Raty’s experience. Of note, she is competing in both men’s and women’s hockey leagues in her native Finland, another rare and admirable feat, making her one of the most intriguing figures in women’s hockey.

In addition to competing with D-Kiekko, she also occupies the goaltending position for JYP in the women’s Liiga. Last season, she played in the Russian women’s league. As a side note, Raty did start the 2015-16 season with the Minnesota Whitecaps, a professional women's team in the United States, appearing in a series of exhibition games.

Such a feat has never been accomplished in North America. Although Shannon Szabados, who plays men’s hockey in the SPHL, had her playing rights acquired by the CWHL’s Calgary Inferno, she has never managed both leagues in one season.

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