After a stellar 2017-18 season that included an Olympic bronze medal and the Naisten Liiga’s Tuula Puputti Award for Best Goaltender, Meeri Räisänen is looking forward to a new challenge this upcoming season: she’s registered for the CWHL Draft.
“[I] haven’t found any good options in Finland to play, and all teams in Sweden [already had] goalies...so CWHL is [a] very good option too, and I have dreamed that I could still play in Canada - a home of hockey,” Räisänen told The Ice Garden.
Räisänen, 28, spent last season with HPK in the Naisten Liiga, taking on a heavy workload and backstopping a young team. She put up an impressive .941 save percentage in 23 regular-season games.
Her decision to register for the CWHL Draft came as a shock to many Nordic hockey observers. The other Finns currently connected to the league all have strong ties to North America. Kunlun Red Star goaltender Noora Räty spent four legendary years in the NCAA with the University of Minnesota and lives in the United States during the offseason, while 2018 CWHL draft prospect and Naisleijonat forward Venla Hovi just graduated from the University of Manitoba.
Meanwhile Räisänen’s established a home, a life, and a successful playing career based out of Jyväskylä in central Finland. She’s played with both men’s and women’s teams around the country. Now, her eyes are fixed firmly on the 2019 Women’s World Championships, to be held on home ice in Espoo, and preparations have already begun. At the time of writing she’s finishing up summer training camp with the Naisleijonat.
“We want to do better there than we did at the Olympics,” she stated. “I feel I’m in [the] best shape ever and playing [the] best hockey I have played.”
Räisänen’s best hockey would be an incredible asset to any team in the CWHL. She’s open-minded about a potential landing spot and mentioned Calgary, Toronto, and Boston as possibilities but says, “We will see what happens at the draft.” She’s also careful to mention that nothing is certain yet.
In spite of the unknowns, she’s excited about the possibilities. “I am sure the games are so many times tougher, since all the Canadian and USA [National Team] players come back to the teams and the league. And [from] what I have heard, all the facilities are quite more professional.”
Regardless of where Räisänen ends up or if she enters the league at all, her decision to register for the CWHL draft represents a slow but steady growth in player agency and mobility. Living wages and fully equitable treatment remain goals instead of realities for female hockey players, but every small step contributes to the greater whole.