New York Riveters players, Kaleigh Fratkin, and Tatiana Rafter have a close connection to the UBC Thunderbirds. Rafter represented UBC from 2010-2015. Several of the current Thunderbirds played alongside her. Fratkin hails from Burnaby, B.C. and skates with the Thunderbirds during the summer to stay active. To see UBC competing at the highest level in university hockey is quite the accomplishment.
“I think it’s unbelievable,” said Fratkin. “Growing up I had the opportunity to see UBC in my back yard, and their program was one of the worst at the university level. I actually knew Graham Thomas because he was at Syracuse at the time, and he was actually doing some recruiting. He ended up leaving and going to UBC. It was actually amazing to see the turnaround that he did, and his ability to recruit the top end players, and make UBC one of the best programs at the Canadian university level.”
The 24 year-old Fratkin, is in her second NWHL season. The pair have a soft spot for UBC. Rafter contributed 61 goals and 55 assists during her time with UBC. She led the Thunderbirds in scoring during the 2013, 2014, and 2015 seasons. Also, the first three seasons with Coach Graham Thomas behind the bench. Rafter has watched a massive shift in approach, positivity, and skill since her inaugural season.
“It was crazy,” said Rafter. “When Graham came in. I had two coaches prior to him, my first and second year. He came in my third year, and we had two (2-24) wins the season before. We only changed three players in our personnel. He just really implemented the whole philosophy in believing in ourselves. It was just building confidence within the program, and helping build a legacy. I thought that was really cool, over my time there seeing the changes from my first year, all the way to my fifth year.”
UBC is locked in as the number one seed at the Strathcona Paper Centre, Napanee, Ontario. They’ll take on the hosts, Queen’s Gaels on Thursday at 7:00 PM ET. It’s going to be a different tournament than last years in Calgary, where UBC won silver. UBC is the team to beat, they’ll be getting every opponents top game. They won’t be able to sneak up on anyone. The pressure is certainly there, but is there an advantage as a number one seed?
“Yes, and no,” said Fratkin.”This biggest thing in that situation is every team you play against is going to want to beat you. I think the good thing playing at the university, and college level. Regardless of how you do in the regular season it doesn’t really matter. It comes down to that playoff side. The great thing about being a top seed, you kind of take on this responsibility and ownership to always bring your best game forward, and play every game like it’s going to be a playoff game, and just have that expectation that you want to win, you want to be a winning team. UBC has become a winning organization. To see them at the top seed, is awesome.”
It takes more than just players to turn around a hockey program. You can have the most talented players available, but if they are all going in different directions, it doesn’t work. The current UBC coaching staff have brought in structure, a positive mind-set, and a belief that anything is possible with hard work, and determination. UBC sticks up for one and other, and plays together, always team first. The scoring, defence, and special teams all come as a result of preparation, and putting in shift after shift. If UBC had been at that next level that they are at right now. Fratkin may have chosen UBC over Boston University.
“To be honest if UBC was as good as a program when I was going through the recruiting process, I could have possibly gone the Canadian route. For me, it was kind of a no brainer to go the NCAA level. At the time the growth of women’s hockey, especially at the Canadian level wasn’t as strong. It was a no brainer to go to the NCAA. Now you see a lot of girls from the NCAA going to CIS (USports). You see a lot of girls staying in the Canadian universities. UBC’s an unbelievable school. The fact that now their program is strong, it’s kind of a no brainer. I would have stayed locally if I had the opportunity, because UBC’s one of the best schools in the world,” said Fratkin.
The 25 year-old, Rafter has kept in close contact with her former teammates, and she’s sending happy thoughts. The Riveters prepare to battle the Buffalo Beauts, in the 2017 Isobel Cup Playoffs. The semifinal game takes place on St. Patrick’s Day at Barnabas Health Hockey House, in Newark, New Jersey. Fratkin and Rafter will prepare while keeping an eye on UBC’s progress at USports Nationals.
“I’ve been tweeting at some of the girls,” revealed Rafter. “I’m really proud to see where the program has come. It’s really great to see, players that when I was in my final year, and they were in their first year. I’m really proud to see their growth, and how they’ve developed to leaders.”
When Fratkin and Rafter return to Vancouver in the summer they could very well see an addition to the UBC trophy case. The Thunderbirds are a testament of what can happen when you have all the right pieces, in place at the right time. All that’s left to achieve is a USports National Championship and that starts on Thursday.
Team (Playoff Finish: Regular Season/Playoffs)
1. UBC Thunderbirds (Canada West Champions: 23-4-1 / 4-2)
2. Guelph Gryphons (OUA Champions: 20-3-1 / 5-1)
3. Saint Mary’s Huskies (AUS Champions: 18-3-3 / 4-2)
4. McGill Martlets (RSEQ Champions: 16-4-0 / 4-1)
5. StFX X-Women (AUS Finalists: 16-8-0 / 5-3)
6. Alberta Pandas (Canada West Finalists: 21-4-3 / 3-2)
7. Concordia Stingers (RSEQ Finalists: 10-9-1 / 2-2)
8. Queen’s Gaels (Hosts: 14-8-2 / 1-2)
USports National Championship Schedule. All Times: ET
Thursday, March 16
3:00 p.m. Quarter-final 1: No.4 McGill vs. No.5 StFX
7:00 p.m. Quarter-final 2: No.1 UBC vs No.8 Queen’s
Friday, March 17
11:00 a.m. Quarter-final 3: No.3 Saint Mary’s vs No.6 Alberta
3:00 p.m. Quarter-final 4: No. 2 Guelph vs. No. 7 Concordia
7:00 p.m. Consolation 1: Loser QF 1 vs. Loser QF 2
Saturday, March 18
11:00 a.m. Consolation 2: Loser QF 3 vs. Loser QF 4
3:00 p.m. Semifinal 1: Winner QF 1 vs. Winner QF 2
7:00 p.m. Semifinal 2: Winner QF 3 vs. Winner QF 4
Sunday, March 19
11:00 a.m. 5th-place game
3:00 a.m. Bronze
7:00 p.m. Final