Raty ready to take the reigns
by Derek O'Brien|28 APR 2020
Finnish hockey brothers Aatu and Aku Raty a few months ago during the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
It was the 9th February in Chomutov, Czech Republic, and the USA and Finland were playing the last game of a five-team U18 round-robin tournament with first place on the line. There weren’t many fans in attendance and, in theory, the outcome of this game didn’t mean a whole lot. After all, the teams were all just preparing for the IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship, which was more than two months away. 

But that’s not how it seemed to the two teams on the ice, who battled hard for every loose puck and finished every check. One of the most noticeable players on the ice was Finnish centre Aatu Raty, who was always in the thick of things. After a scoreless first period, he opened the scoring in the second – winning a battle for the puck along the boards, passing it back to the point, and then deflecting the shot in. 

It was a tight 2-1 game until a last-minute empty-net goal put it away for Finland. Then, with the outcome decided, fireworks erupted. With just two seconds left, Raty got into a shoving and jawing exchange with American centre Thomas Bordeleau, whom he had gone head-to-head with in the face-off circle many times.

“I was just reminding him that we won the game,” Raty said afterward, trying to hold back a smile. “These are always tough games with those guys. Fun games.”

Raty would know. Just three months past his 17th birthday, he had already played in one U18 World Championship and a World Junior Championship, and in each of those, his Finnish team had faced the Americans in the quarter-finals. At last year’s U18 Worlds in Sweden it was an embarrassing 6-0 loss, while in the World Juniors in the Czech Republic it was an intense 1-0 win.

“It was a tough tournament,” he said of last year’s U18 Worlds in Sweden, where he recorded an assist in five games. “We didn’t play well at all. We definitely have to be ready against smaller countries because they can also be dangerous,” he said, referring to the team’s 4-3 group-stage loss to Belarus.

During the World Juniors, Raty contributed a bit more to the Finnish offence with two goals and one assist as the Finns finished fourth. 

Born in November 2002, Raty was one of the youngest players in both of those tournaments, but he’s used to that. He was also the second-youngest player to play in the Liiga, Finland’s top professional league, this past season. In 12 games with hometown Karpat Oulu in Finland’s far north, 17-year-old Raty had two goals and two assists.

“It’s been awesome,” Raty said of his experience with Karpat, which has been a Finnish powerhouse in the 21st Century, winning seven titles. “They have some former NHL players and great Finnish players, so it’s been a great experience. I’ve learned a lot.”

When asked about players he looks up to the most, he said: “Definitely Jussi Jokinen and Lasse Kukkonen. Jokinen played like a thousand games in the NHL and is like a mentor.”

Two of Karpat’s top offensive players this season were 38-year-old Mika Pyorala, who Ratu said was his favourite player growing up, and 21-year-old Jesse Puljujarvi, back with the club after three years in North America and 139 games with the Edmonton Oilers.

“It just shows you how good you have to be to play in the NHL,” Ratu said of Puljujarvi, “so he’s an example and I would like to be as good a player as he is. Or even better.”

Another Karpat player is older brother Aku Raty, who like Aatu, split the season between the club’s professional and U20 teams. Aku was a fifth-round choice of the Arizona Coyotes last season. Due to his late-2002 birth, Aatu can’t be drafted until 2021, where he’s currently projected to be one of the top few picks.

Comparing Aatu to his older brother, Finnish U18 national team coach Anssi Laine said: “I think he’s a little bit different. (Aatu) sees the ice very well, he’s got very good skills and has a high hockey IQ, whereas his brother is more of a power forward. Aatu is a little more calculating, making smart passes. 

“He’s a clever player,” the coach elaborated. “He can play well both ways, defensively and offensively, and when he’s really on his game he can play physically as well.”

Always playing with players older than him and soaking in those experiences – whether from Karpat’s veteran leaders or older players on the Finnish national junior team such as Rasmus Kupari or Matias Maccelli – this was now going to be his time to be a leader.

“We’ve talked about what it means to be a leader and being an example for the team, and he’s responded to that very well,” said Laine.

“I prefer to lead by example,” said Raty. “And then just reminding everyone to be ready because I know how tough the games are gonna be.”

There will be tough games to come, but Raty is going to have to wait for those along with everyone else. 

“Our coach sent us a message about it in the team group chat,” he said about the news about the U18 Worlds. “Obviously, everyone was unhappy that the tournament was cancelled and also sad that our team’s journey was over.”

Despite the unsatisfying finish and the present uncertainty, Raty is happy with his season and optimistic about the next one.

“My off-season is going well,” he said. “It’s pretty much a normal off-season except I have to train a lot more by myself or in a smaller group. I’m also training with my brother a lot at home and at the gym. I’m doing my own program at the moment but we are getting a program from our team soon.”

Entering what will be his draft season in 2020/21, Raty hopes to take another step forward, saying: “I hope I’m good enough to play full-time in Liiga next season and I work hard every day for that goal.”