As Canadian-born players make their mark in the newly launched NWHL, Tatiana Rafter is proud to contribute to such a unique aspect of the incipient league’s history. One of nine Canadians on the Beauts roster, the most of any club in the NWHL, the Winnipeg-raised Rafter brings solid credentials.
Among a who’s who of women’s hockey that once played at prestigious Balmoral Hall, Rafter has enjoyed the transition from CIS hockey to the NWHL. Quick to acknowledge that the elite level of play she was exposed to in the Canada West Conference was an essential preparation ground, she graduated as one of the conference’s finest forwards of the last decade. Competing at the University of British Columbia for head coach Graham Thomas, she was part of a transformative era that saw the program became a national power.
In the aftermath of a stellar 2013-14 season that saw UBC capture its first 20-win season, Rafter added to such a historic outcome as the first Thunderbirds player to garner Canada West Player of the Year honors. In addition, Rafter would gain the Canada West scoring crown with a 38-point game on the strength of a conference-high 20 goals plus First-Team All-Canadian honors, respectively.
A member of the CIS 100-point club, Rafter is also a multiple Canada West All-Star selection who holds the Thunderbirds program record for most points in a game with five, accomplished on January 10, 2014 against Regina. Joining her into professional hockey is fellow Thunderbird alum Sarah Casorso, who signed with Vienna’s EHV Sabres.
“CIS hockey is quality hockey. All the conferences roster talented athletes but the league I played in, Canada west, was quite strong. Over the course of my hockey career for the UBC Thunderbirds I played in an environment that fostered my growth and development to become a top tiered athlete at that level. At the professional level the bar is set higher as decisions need to be smarter, the puck is moved faster and you need to be stronger.”
Considering that every team in the NWHL features players with international talent, the Buffalo Beauts have no shortage of such players. Among them is Rafter, who donned the Team Canada jersey in a gold medal effort at the 2013 Winter Universiade in Trentino, Italy. A key offensive catalyst for Canada, she recorded an exceptional 15 points to finish as one of the event’s leading scorers.
As a side note, Shelby Bram is another Canadian member of the Beauts roster with international experience. Having won silver with Canada at the IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds, she also captured bronze at the 2012 Meco Cup. Like Rafter, Bram was also raised in Manitoba.
Among the players that suit up for the Buffalo Beauts, Rafter has enjoyed the opportunity to call competitors such as goaltender Brianne McLaughlin, blueliner Megan Bozek and forward Meghan Duggan as teammates. Having all competed for Team USA at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Games, their status helps motivate everyone around them, including a highly energetic Rafter, eager to record her first point with the franchise,
“It has been great to have Olympic girls to play with and against while adjusting to the professional domain. Girls like Duggan and McLaughlin had different experiences which added strength to the league and our team. I have enjoyed playing against such high caliber players because it has forced me to set new goals and push my body to higher limits.”
One element that Rafter has cherished as a member of the Buffalo Beauts is the fan experience. As the NWHL is committed to providing a positive experience, it creates a rewarding environment for both fans and players alike. Considering that sports fans in Rust Belt cities such as Buffalo, Cleveland and Pittsburgh are fiercely loyal to their teams; it has added an element of excitement to Rafter’s experience with the Beauts.
Being able to participate in post-game autograph sessions has been just as fun for Rafter as the fans who gratefully add her signature to their treasured hockey artifacts. While fans are quickly admiring Rafter’s exceptional playmaking skills and swift skating, they may equally come to appreciate her amazing heart of gold.
While Rafter is dedicated to be a role model for young girls in the community, helping inspire them to follow their own hockey dreams, she is also a remarkable hockey humanitarian. In addition to volunteering with numerous junior hockey teams, she has also been dedicated to health care, showing tremendous compassion.
Among the Beauts players that took part in the Making Strides for Cancer Walk on Buffalo’s Prime Street, she also went to social media to recognize two close friends. With the Beauts donning black and pink jerseys for their second game of the season, adorned with the iconic pink ribbon logo, Rafter dedicated the game to Melanie Klassen, and also acknowledged Shawnda Muir’s admirable victory against cancer.
Following the game, Rafter and her Beauts teammates were still proudly in their pink jerseys signing autographs for all gracious fans. With the jerseys being auctioned off for cancer research, these soon-to-be collector’s items represent what is great about the community of hockey pulling together for a great cause. Whichever collector acquires Rafter’s number 43 jersey, they will have obtained a treasure that was worn with exceptional pride,
“The fans have been so supportive and they are what makes playing for the Beauts such a special opportunity. Not only is it a dream come true to rock #43 for a professional team but I have come to realize this season is bigger than any individual person.
In the inaugural season of the NWHL, every player is representing the dream of young girls to play pro hockey. How amazing is that?
I also have been able to make a difference in the community. Locally, I volunteer my time at the Buffalo Women and Children’s Hospital with the Book Nook program and Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, as well as helping out with the Bison’s U10, U12, U14 and U16 female hockey teams. It is fantastic to be able to give back to Buffalo for the wonderful opportunity I have to play hockey and represent this city.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Images supplied by Tatiana Rafter