Team Finland released their Four Nations Cup roster this morning, with superstar netminder Noora Räty named to the squad. “Always honored and humbled to be able to wear the Lion Jersey,” she posted to her social media, “and it’s even more special when you get to play in front of your fans, friends, and family!”
It’s the first time that Räty will compete for Finland’s national team in an international game since last year’s Four Nations Cup in Sundsvall, Sweden. She came to international attention after the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where she initially announced her retirement from the game before finding a men’s team to play on and prolonging her outstanding career.
Räty’s had a somewhat tumultuous relationship with the national team since the Olympics, which makes her return to the national team that much sweeter.
Eyebrows went up in early February when Räty, gearing up for her first playoff run with KJT in the third-tier men’s SM-Sarja, didn’t dress during the Finland-Sweden Euro Hockey Tour matches. The Finnish media reported rumors of a rift between Räty and head coach Pasi Mustonen, fueled by Räty’s appearance in a game several days after sustaining a knee injury. Mustonen and the NaisLeijonat’s coaching staff were informed of the injury but not of Räty’s decision to return to the ice so soon, an oversight she acknowledged and took full responsibility for on her social media.
More insight on her relationship with Mustonen came to light later that month when the lineup for Worlds was released. Observers immediately took note of Räty’s omission from the roster; when reached by the Finnish media for comment, Räty described Mustonen's shift from telling her she's the best goalie in the world to “[He said] he did not trust me and value me as a person or as an athlete.”
She took the harsh sentiment in stride as best as she could, but Räty was understandably stung. She gave her final feelings on the matter in a Facebook post on February 29 and reiterated her commitment to being “the same Noora Räty: Open, ambitious and honest.”
Räty returned to her off-season coaching job in Minnesota following KJT's playoff elimination. Time, distance, and perspective seem to have helped both sides; after a busy six months training, coaching, and running the inaugural KRJ Skills Camp with friends and fellow Olympians Amanda Kessel and Mira Jalosuo, Räty flew back to Finland energized, healthy, and excited.
For Mustonen’s part, he demonstrated some renewed confidence by starting Räty in two out of the weekend’s three games. Both games took place on home ice; first in Tornio on September 2nd where Finland took a 5-3 victory, then on the 3rd in Oulu where she backstopped her team to a decisive 4-0 win in front of a 2,000-strong crowd. As Räty herself likes to say on Twitter after victories: “Fun to win, fun to win!”
After bronze in Vancouver and a disappointing fifth-place finish in Sochi, there’s no doubt that Team Finland’s eyes are turned towards PyeongChang. The Naisleijonat believe they have unfinished business with the medal podium, and Räty believes she can help lead them there. A Four Nations victory on home soil would certainly bolster their confidence.
The Four Nations Cup tournament starts on October 30th in Finland; the games will be played in Vierumäki, Kerava, and Järvenpää.
UPDATE 10/27/16: This article refers to primarily IIHF-sanctioned international play only. Räty clarified on Twitter that she’s played for Finland four times since 2014, including the Euro Hockey Tour and Finnkampen.
Thanks to Arto Palovaara for translation help!