This brings me to Noora Raty. For those who dont follow women's hockey outside of the Canada/USA battles, Raty has been for a few years now 1 of, if not at times, the best goalie in the world in women's hockey. She has backstopped Finland to wins over the U.S. in the World Championships, Four Nations Cup last year & the Hockey Canada Cup here in 2010. A feat that is few & far between for teams not from Canada.
Raty carried her college, University Of Minnesota to back-to-back NCAA championships. With a career mark of 114-17-8, including a 38-0-0 mark in her final year with 17 Shutouts. She holds the record for career shutouts & single season shutouts in women''s college hockey. As a teenager she won the Best Goalie honours at the Women's World Hockey Championships, twice. In 2008 she was given the MVP of the entire tourney. Noora Raty was the best goalie in the world, and she wasnt even out of her teens yet.
Winning an Olympic Bronze medal in 2010 will be the highlight of her international career. Her two NCAA titles will be the only major championships she will likely ever win in the sport. The reason is, Noora Raty, at just 24 years of age, will likely retire.
Early retirement isnt rare in women's hockey. Some do it due to injuries, others do it to start up families. But rarely has there been someone in the women's game, still near the peak of her career retiring because she cant find somewhere to play that still wants to. This is a situation unique to Raty right now, but not unique to the women's hockey players as a whole.
Despite the feverish crowds that Canada-USA women's games get on both sides of the border, there is no professional women's league. The only pro women's hockey league currently of note is in Russia, and Raty herself has stated, it isnt "the best". North America has a women's league. The CWHL, but it isnt pro. Players travel expenses and equipment are paid for, but they do not pay the players to play. Players are expected to carry on with real every day jobs, and play a sport they love, for essentially free. This is the top level of competition in North America right now for women's hockey, a free league that doesnt travel outside the eastern time zone.
Raty stated in a very public statement on twitter that she needs a league that can challenge her (CWHL could do that) and pay her (the Russian league can do that) but finding 1 that does both is not an option at this time. Noora could play mens hockey. An option she likely has considered. Perhaps she still will. But what about all the others? What about Raty proving herself against other women's players? Growing the game? This seems to be something Noora seems eager to do. She wants to be paid AND play against women.
Noora Raty's very public plea yesterday on twitter might not help a league form in time for her career, but hopefully it will be instrumental in getting things in motion for such a league very soon. Hopefully one that can pay players, and more importantly expland beyond an area so small you can drive from the furthest 2 points of the league in a few hours.
Women have a professional basketball league, backed by the NBA. Its in its 17th season coming up, has 12 teams. With a minimum salary of $35,000 a season.
Women have a professional soccer league. The NWSL and while it pays very little comparatively, it does at least PAY its players. Minimum $6,000 a season. But there are also professional leagues in Europe for them to go to that pay much, much better.
So why is there no professional hockey league for women in North America? I'm not saying it has to pay WNBA level salaries just yet, but it could, if it had the right marketing behind it.
Cue the NHL. Like the NBA's involvement in women's basketball, the NHL could vastly boost the image, and viability of a women's league. Association with regional teams would bring recognition and would almost instantly boost the sport. It would also allow payment for services. The NHL is a multi-billion dollar juggernaut in sports, yet, no involvement in trying to develop a women's league or game. They have no problem tossing money at markets that failed from the get go, and trying to sway fans over seas with tours there that include actual regular season games. Lots of money to waste on those ventures. But women's hockey? Nope. Despite the NHL using women's hockey stories to get a few more eyeballs on broadcasts, puck dropping ceremonies & traffic to their website. That, they can do. They have no problem USING women's hockey moments & players to promote hockey, just dont put any actual money into it.
Somewhere today in Sochi, Russia Tuukka Rask is probably going to have a meal that he didnt have to pay for, and will be indifferent to the experience or even annoyed that its not what he would usually have. Noora Raty might very well have that same meal, and just be glad she didnt have to pay for it, with the $0 she earns doing the same job, and so far, more successfully in less years on this planet. Tuukka Rask will get $7M U.S. this season. He is 1 of the top 20 goalies in the NHL, MAYBE even top 10. He will make $7M because a team felt having 1 of the top 20 at his position is worth that. Noora Raty is 1 of the top 5 in the world for women, even arguably, the best. Yet no one is paying her, despite the fact shes done more in her career than Tuukka (never played a second in the playoffs in the 2011 Cup year) who still has no major accomplishments in his career outside of a bronze at the World Juniors. Noora is also 2 years younger than him. Peter Budaj, the 3rd string goalie for Slovakia this tourney is making $1.4M as a back up for the Montreal Canadiens, the same team that employs Carey Price at $6.5M.
Surely, there can be a league, that values Noora Raty enough that she can make at least 10% of what the 3rd string Slovakian goalie in the Olympic mens tournament currently makes. But, I also thought there should be a professional women's hockey league as well. Maybe there will be. Maybe the NHL, with all the hair brained schemes its put together to try & create new revenue streams will finally go "hey, how about a women's hockey league?". They put a team in Phoenix Arizona, and in a swamp in Sunrise, Florida. Surely women's hockey is less of a risk than those zany ideas. Figure it out quick National Hockey League, before 1 of the sports greatest retires, at just 24 years old.
A little side note I found as I was looking to see if there was any last details I missed. Noora finished 63rd on The Hockey News 2013 list of 100 most influential people in hockey..... ahead of 37 mostly NHL based people. Are you listening NHL? There are women players of influence, you just need to open your eyes before its too late.
Heres a few photos of this hockey phenom from the two times I got to see her in Vancouver. During the 2009 Hockey Canada Cup & the 2010 Olympic Bronze Medal game.