Like a fine wine, Kaleigh Fratkin has only gotten better.
That’s how the reigning NWHL Defender of the Year described the process of a defensive player progressing. In her six years in the NWHL — one of the original eight players still active in the league — Fratkin’s star has only risen.
“Every year, in the offseason, I evaluate a different part of my game and realize there’s a whole part of my game I need to become better at,” she said. “A lot of that comes with being in a position like a defender, the older you get, you look at the game differently.”
Forcing plays in college trying to be offensive, she changed her game to not do that as much and had more success defensively.
Fratkin has missed just five games since her college days, and those came at the start of her third NWHL season, where she was evaluating her future in hockey while balancing a full-time job. She decided to play with the Boston Pride, where her ironman streak continued and she developed into one of the toughest defenders to play against in hockey.
Becoming that player wasn’t easy, and it didn’t happen overnight.
Fratkin said she “way overtrained” in college, going to the gym often, and mostly without focus. As she’s gotten older, she’s become more strategic with her training.
“This offseason I’m working on my foot speed,” she said. “It’s an aspect of my game I never want to lag. It’s just re-evaluating, the offseason is different when you have a full-time job like early in my career.”
Entering her fourth season with the Boston Pride, Fratkin has operated like a de facto second captain, alongside captain Jillian Dempsey. But Fratkin runs the blue line in Boston, leading one of the strongest cores of defensive talent in women’s hockey.
With a combination of veterans like Lexi Bender and young talent like Mallory Souliotis with her, the Pride defensive corps has earned a reputation as one of the toughest to play against.
That really starts with Fratkin, though.
Fratkin has played in almost every women’s hockey entity available, from college to the CWHL to international play to even some men’s hockey.
The NWHL has meant something special to her, however, and how she’s seen herself grow with the league.
“I grew up playing hockey wanting to make the Olympics,” she said. “I got to my sophomore year of college and saw where I stood in that program and was like, well am I done playing hockey? I have no where to go. The NWHL made me realize I can keep playing hockey as long as I can if I feel good enough to play.”
Fratkin notched a career-high 23 points last season, arguably her best to date in the NWHL. Before she was one of the league’s original members in 2015, she spent a year with the Boston Blades of the ill-fated CWHL, where she had 30 points. Before that, her illustrious career at Boston University was preceded by a stint with the Canadian U18 team, and a few men’s juniors teams.
Fratkin didn’t know what direction she was going in in her hockey career after one CWHL season, but when she made the leap to the NWHL and spent her season with the Connecticut Whale, she knew she was there to say.
“I’ve played international, I’ve played in the CWHL, I’ve played men’s hockey, and my coolest experience has been playing in the NWHL,” said Fratkin. “Between All-Star Weekend, the first-ever game, this past season at home, the semi-final game when we thought we were going to the Isobel Cup. We’re developing a fanbase of people who don’t think, ‘oh it’s just women’s hockey.’ They think it’s really cool hockey.”
At just 28 years old, Fratkin is far from being an older player, even in a sport like women’s hockey that leans young. She has a lot of years left if she wants them.
She’s still a veteran leader for the Pride though, and as one of the league’s founding members, has already formed meaningful memories in the NWHL.
“There’s been great games and cool moments, cool events and initiatives in Boston, but the biggest thing I’ll remember always is the autograph lines,” said Fratkin. “The amount of people I’ve met who had never been to a hockey game and then we saw them every single home weekend.”
Next season’s Pride roster is filled mostly with players looking to avenge a lost opportunity to win an Isobel Cup. Fratkin is still seeking her first title, after believing 2020 would be the year she finally hoisted the trophy.
It’s going to be a long time yet before Pride fans have to say goodbye to the best defensive player in franchise history. She has a lot of impact left to make; whether that’s on the ice or off.
“There are girls at camps in the offseason and they’ll say they were in the autograph line and ask if you remember us, and it’s like oh my god I do remember, and now they’re saying they want to go to BU or something, I’ll remember that. You never really know the impact you’re having.”