From being carried to the rink as a tyke to serving as his brother’s mentor as a pro, Ty Rattie’s hockey life revolves around his family and friends.
There’s no sense asking Ty Rattie whether he prizes his family more than his friends or the sport of hockey. That’s because, for the high-scoring Chicago Wolves right wing, they’re intertwined. Always have been. Always will be.
During Rattie’s formative years in Airdrie, Alberta, a quiet town north of Calgary, there were just three hockey rinks available. That shortage meant the youngest kids had to practice before school. At 6 a.m.
As much as 5-year-old Ty already loved hockey (as you’ll discover), it didn’t out-rank his love of sleep.
“I never, ever liked those practices,” Rattie said. “My dad always told me he’d have to carry me to the car and carry me into the rink and then I’d finally wake up.”
Rattie’s father, Rob, didn’t just strap Ty into his hockey gear and carry him to the ice. He coached Ty’s teams until he was 12.
“He taught me everything I know in hockey,” Ty said. “He knows his stuff in baseball too. He’s a very smart hockey man and very smart baseball man.”
And the boys who were Ty’s teammates during the tyke hockey years? They’re now young men who’ve never stopped being best buddies. The Rattie home on Woodside Lane has served as the crew’s hangout for a long, long time.
“All my best friends right now are the same guys I played hockey with when I was 6 or 7, which is pretty cool,” Ty said. “We’ve been tight ever since. We’ve played baseball together. We’ve played hockey together. We’ve gone to school together. It’s a small-town thing.”
But back to Ty’s early hockey years for a moment. As impossible as he found it to wake up in the morning, he’d be much more alert in the evening when the Calgary Flames had a game scheduled. His mom, Shauna, would cook up a feast and then the family (including younger brother Taden, better known as “Crash” to family and friends as a nod to Kevin Costner’s character in “Bull Durham”) would sit in front of the TV and root like crazy for the Flames.
Actually, that’s not all they did. When Ty was 5 and Taden was a newborn, the Ratties transformed their basement into a concrete rink. They installed a net, painted the blue lines and red line on the floor and Shauna used her artistic touch to provide a replica of the Calgary Flames logo at center ice. Between periods of the Flames games, the Rattie boys headed to the basement to shoot pucks.
“With four minutes left in the period, Ty would have his sticks and his goalie pads ready to go so we wouldn’t miss a minute,” Rob said. “He always studied other players. He’d try the moves down in the basement that he saw 10 minutes before. He would spend a lot of hours down there.”
“My dad would say, ‘Let’s see if you can shoot 200 pucks per day’ and kind of challenge me,” Ty said. “The basement wasn’t huge, but it was big enough for me to shoot. So we shot and we shot and we shot. It’s been renovated since, but it was a huge help. It was so cool that our parents did that for Crash and me when we were younger.”
Ty’s work habits transformed him into a ridiculously productive goal-scorer. During the season he turned 15 and played for the Bantam AAA Airdrie Xtreme, he racked up 75 goals and 56 assists — in just 33 games. That led to Rattie becoming the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 Western Hockey League draft by the Portland Winterhawks.
During the course of four-plus seasons with the Winterhawks (2009-13), Rattie delivered 151 regular-season and 50 playoff goals while helping to guide Portland to two WHL regular-season titles and one spot in the Memorial Cup finals.
While the 50 postseason goals are an all-time WHL record, the numbers alone don’t explain Rattie’s impact while in Portland. For those unfamiliar with the Winterhawks, the franchise has featured such illustrious players as Hall of Fame right wing Cam Neely, future Hall of Famer Marian Hossa and 20-year NHL defenseman Glen Wesley.
But when The Oregonian newspaper ran a series this summer counting down the 25 greatest players in Winterhawks history, Rattie finished No. 1 on the list— in part because he played a key role in the franchise’s best years.
“It’s obviously a very big honor with how many players have played there,” Ty said, “but I was very lucky to have Mike Johnston (now the Pittsburgh Penguins head coach) and then Travis Green (now the Utica Comets head coach) as coaches when I was there. I was very lucky to be on a very good team and play with a lot of great players who are in the NHL right now.”
Rattie made the jump from juniors to the professional ranks last season – and his scoring touch made the jump with him. With 31 goals in 72 regular-season games, Rattie shared fourth place in the American Hockey League and tied Grand Rapids’ Teemu Pulkkinen for first among rookies.
But the 6-foot Rattie, who turned 21 on Feb. 5, wasn’t satisfied with his performance overall. He played last season at 180 pounds and felt opponents took advantage of his lack of strength.
“When pucks were along the wall, guys would look forward to going to the wall with me because they knew they could just push me over,” he said. “I worked on that really, really hard this summer. I worked on my core. I worked on my legs. I can win puck battles and I feel I’ll be a lot stronger this year.”
According to Wolves strength and conditioning coach Evan Levy, Rattie added 10 pounds of muscle (and 12 pounds overall) during his five-day-a-week lifting sessions in Airdrie. When Rattie went to the gym in the morning, it was a family affair as Taden joined him for every workout.
“We’re pretty close,” Taden said. “We’re always happy to be with each other. I like his sense of humor. It’s just fun to be around him.”
Taden always was the little brother who tagged along with Ty and his buddies in whatever they did — whether it was playing street hockey or watching movies in the family’s basement.
“Ty was always Taden’s biggest hero,” Rob said. “I actually think they’re closer than ever. It was a lot of fun to watch them this summer.”
Now, though, 16-year-old Taden is Ty’s not-so-little brother. He’s 6-foot-3, 175 pounds and eventually will be the second member of the family to play for Portland. For now, he’s earning his spurs with the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Whitecourt Wolverines.
“He works his butt off and he’s earned everything he’s got this year,” Ty said. “He wasn’t expected to make any junior team, but he made it and I’m really, really proud of him.”
The brothers send text messages or chat via FaceTime almost every day. Rob and Shauna, now empty nesters, try to get to Chicago and Whitecourt every month to visit their boys. Ty’s friends are still invested in the Rattie boys’ hockey careers, too.
“My best friends that I’ve had since I was 5 are Taden’s best friends,” Ty said. “They text him. It’s pretty cool. And my house is still the hangout spot. My mom has cooked numerous meals for all my friends. They come over and watch Chicago Wolves games with my parents when they’re watching them (via AHLLive.com). They just put it on the big screen and if the boys want to come over, they come over and watch the game.
“My family, it’s unbelievable. It’s fun. Sometimes I’ll come home and my friends will just be at my house hanging out and I won’t even know. It’s one of those households and I like it like that. Kudos to my mom and dad putting up with 8-9 kids that they’ve really adopted over the years.”