After a disappointing season in Buffalo, it appeared that Tatiana Rafter’s days in the NWHL were over. Rafter was prepared to continue her hockey career overseas after not re-signing with the Beauts. But she received an unexpected call on the last day of free agency from the New York Riveters and signed for $16,500.
The Riveters had failed to land Hannah Brandt, who chose to stay close to home and join the Minnesota Whitecaps. Chad Wiseman had few options left so late in free agency. Rafter’s combination of size and speed made her the most attractive player on available on the market.
Last year the Beauts had high hopes that Rafter would provide the offense that made her a standout with the UBC Thunderbirds. Rafter was invaluable to the Beauts off the ice but she never emerged from a checking line role. She scored just three points in 17 games, falling well short of what Buffalo was hoping for when it signed her for $15,000.
Rafter was one of just four NWHL players from CIS hockey last season. She was the most prolific scorer of that small group.
She finished in the top three scorers in the CIS’s Canada West division in her last three years at UBC. She was the fourth-highest scorer in the nation in 2013-14 with 20 goals and 18 assists in 28 games. Rafter won the Player of the Year award in her division that year.
NCAA Division I women’s hockey is considered far more competitive than CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) women’s hockey. That is why the best female Canadian hockey players typically go south of the border for their college careers. As a result, the CIS has produced very few skaters in North American professional women’s hockey, especially in the NWHL.
Wiseman is counting on getting more out of Rafter than Buffalo coaches Ric Seiling and Shelley Looney were able to. “Tatiana is a big power forward with great speed,” said Wiseman in the league’s press release on her signing. “Put with the right players, we believe Tatiana can have a breakout year offensively this season.”
In Rafter’s last two seasons with the Thunderbirds, she averaged 3.8 shots per game and 3.7 shots per game. She made her mark on the rush and around the net thanks to her tremendous skating ability and reach. With the Beauts, Rafter averaged just 1.7 shots per game and rarely skated with other skilled forwards. She won’t return to her scoring ways if she doesn’t shoot more.
Rafter and her former teammate Devon Skeats are two of the most promising forwards to come out of CIS women’s hockey in the last few years. Skeats was nearly a point-per-game player with Buffalo last season despite having inferior stats to Rafter in the CIS. A lot of that had to do with their linemates and their role on the team.
Rafter has an opportunity to be a key cog in a promising top six forward group in Newark. The Canadian forward should get the power play time and offensive zone starts that she didn’t get in Buffalo. Because of this Rafter should be able to get more shots on net and have more scoring chances. That could be all Rafter needs to start scoring again.
It is no mystery that the bulk of the offense will come from the sticks of Amanda Kessel, Bray Ketchum, and the Riveters’ top defensive pair. But the Riveters need second-year NWHL forwards like Rafter, Madison Packer and Janine Weber to produce. Wiseman and the Riveters got burned last year for being too dependent on the production of their top two forwards. If the Riveters want to play winning hockey, that is a mistake that they can’t afford to make again.