For 28-year-old Winnipegger Tatiana Rafter, 2020 has been anything but normal. And no, the COVID-19 global pandemic isn’t even the largest change. Now currently 38 weeks pregnant, the former National Women’s Hockey League forward still continues to show up to the rink, however, in a slightly different capacity.
Serving as head coach of the female U-18 AAA Interlake Lightning, Rafter brings an abundance of talent, knowledge of the game and an international flavour to her near-daily on-ice experiences with the team. Although bending down to tie her skates may be one of the most challenging experiences she continues to battle with so far this season, the coaching continues to be a highlight of her daily/weekly routines.
With the Interlake Lightning, Rafter began the 2020-21 season with conditioning camps from August 17-28, before hosting tryouts from September 1-10. The team has since begun its season in October but has run into some difficult competition by way of red-hot Winnipeg Ice, Avros and Eastman Selects teams. Alongside her soon-to-be-busier assistants Stacey Crawford and Taylor McCaskill, the coaching staff will look to turn things around following the first three games of the Manitoba Female U-18 AAA hockey season.
“It’s an interesting period of time to be a leader, while adapting to expecting partway through the season,” Rafter said. “Figuring out how to best serve the program moving forward is going to take a lot of creativity and team unity. I could not do this without our dedicated coaches, staff, girls buying in, an amazing life partner and everyone stepping up over this next stretch. There is lots of things to be thankful for and so many blessings amid the pandemic, but overall I’m so grateful to have found a team that has welcomed a woman coming in while expecting and working alongside of me, instead of holding back an opportunity because it’s not a regular scenario.”
Rafter has certainly had her share of adventure the past number of years. Following the completion of five ultra-successful seasons with the UBC Thunderbirds, in which the 5-foot-9, 165-pound forward amassed 70 goals, 133 points and 98 penalty minutes in 145 total games, Rafter played three years in the National Women’s Hockey League with the Buffalo Beauts and Metropolitan Riveters, collecting 12 goals, 16 points and 18 penalty minutes in 51 regular season games. Rafter’s 2018-19 season was spent in the women’s KHL, where she skated for SK Gorny Ukhta in St. Petersburg.
In August of 2019, she was named Head Coach of Denmark’s Hvidovre Ishockey Klub for the season. The women’s team – situated just outside of Copenhagen – consisted of 25 players aged 15-29, 15 of which have represented Denmark internationally. The former Isobel Cup champion’s (Riveters 2018) duties included on and off-ice practices with the team, managing the bench, while also serving in a hockey management role with the Danish club’s front office staff.
She returned home to her native Winnipeg and continues to be a fixture at the rinks. The 28-year-old is also beginning a distance education human resource management program which she expects will help keep her busy while on maternity leave.
“After I stopped playing professional hockey I was scared that I would never feel that level of passion for something again,” Rafter reflected. “But now that I have solely been coaching for the past year overseas and now in Winnipeg, I am really enjoying “retirement” and feel like I’m actually in my element.”
Whether it’s taking Zoom calls with highly popular social media accounts, posting workouts, meal plans or inquiring on daily intake levels from her followers, Rafter is pleased to remain fixated at a high level in the sport that she loves.
“I am grateful to be working in my hometown and helping upcoming athletes go after their goals,” she added. “To be honest, when I’m coaching a session I need to make sure to set time parameters because I could stay out there for hours! One hour feels like mere minutes to me because I am genuinely enjoying myself. I am shocked and excited that this is 28. Looking back I will remember turning 28 as the year I decided to build a business. Apparently I can’t live without hockey in my life.”
But when she’s not running drills in practice, taking care of her soon-to-be-arriving baby or driving to or from the rink, Rafter is looking after her personal income, by means of a new business endeavour, to which she is thoroughly excited with.
“This business is enhancing my life, allowing me to accomplish my goals and also help set me up for my growing family,” she said. “We are on the way up and only just getting started. Never would I have imagined that being passionate about health and wellness products would be helping change my life!.”