Thunderbirds standout, Centennial native Raftery makes plans for ’21-22, tenders with NAHL’s Wilderness
Patrick Raftery is playing with his Colorado Thunderbirds’ 16U AAA team at the USA Hockey National Tournament this week, that event serving as his priority at the moment.
Two weeks back, though, the Centennial native solidified his 2021-22 season by signing an NAHL tender agreement with the Minnesota Wilderness.
Wilderness assistant coach Brendan Phelps has history in Colorado and played a big role in securing Raftery for next season.
“Coach Phelps was on the bench at the CCM Showcase I played in after my 14U season,” Raftery said. “He’s stayed in touch since and continued to keep track of my development. He contacted me this season and gave me the opportunity to play in some games with the Wilderness. That was a great overall experience and that opportunity led to them offering me a tender.
“Being able to go up to Cloquet, Minn., this season and experience the program was a big factor. I didn’t really know what to expect but everyone was great from the coaches to the players and the billets. The coaches expressed a strong interest in having me on the team next season. The NAHL is a very competitive league and known for advancing players to Division I college hockey, which is a goal of mine. I know it’s going to be a difficult and challenging year as a younger player, but I feel like it’s a great place for my continued development.”
Raftery added that he went up to Minnesota blind this past season and possibly with an apprehensive mindset, but that was all erased once he immersed himself with the team.
“I didn’t know anyone when I went up to play with them this year, and I was a little nervous about how I’d be accepted as a younger guy coming in,” said Raftery. “The entire team treated me great and there was another tender player up at the same time, Shawn O’Donnell from Pittsburgh, so it was great to get to know him. It’s a great group of guys and I look forward to seeing and playing with all of them again.”
As a longtime player with the Thunderbirds, Raftery reflected on his time with the high-end organization.
“Playing for the Thunderbirds has been awesome,” said Raftery. “I had seven seasons of knowing exactly where I wanted to play the following season, which allowed me to focus on my development. We’ve been a top-10 team in the country pretty much every year so practicing and playing with and against so many great players has definitely helped me prepare for junior hockey. I couldn’t have asked for better coaches and teammates throughout my time with the Thunderbirds.
“Matt Frick, Zach Blom, Milan Hejduk and Dave Clarkson have been my head coaches. They’re all competitive and want to win games but there’s also an emphasis on teaching the game. Coach Hejduk was my head coach for three years. He created a very fun and competitive environment. We were also able to help him celebrate his jersey retirement ceremony with the Avs, which was an awesome experience. Coach Clarkson works very hard to get players to the next level and has been a great advocate for me this year.”
Growing up, hockey was all Raftery knew.
“My mother has always been a big hockey fan, and she got me on the ice in some open skates when I was four years old,” Raftery said. “I saw guys playing hockey while I was waiting for my skate to start and according to my mom, I was very interested in what they were doing and when I could try it. I also grew up a big Avs fan.”
Now in Missouri at nationals, Raftery wants to finish the season “playing our best and having a deep run in the tournament.”
The Thunderbirds opened the event yesterday with a 3-1 win over Fox Motors from Michigan. Raftery netted what proved to be the game-winning goal in the second period.
“Many of us have been playing together since our 11U year, and I can’t think of a better way for us to end this season than with a national championship banner,” said Raftery. “Beyond this season, I plan to continue to develop in junior hockey over the next 2-3 years with a goal of playing D-I college hockey. Like every hockey player, I hope to play professional hockey one day.”
— Matt Mackinder
(April 29, 2021)