Every kid that laces up the skates dreams that one day, their skates would step foot on NHL ice for an NHL game but very few ever get to experience it.
New York Islanders prospect Aatu Räty, at 20 years old, got that opportunity to live that dream on Friday night against the Florida Panthers in front of the Islanders faithful and he and the Isalnders put on a show in a 5-1 stomping.
In 11:25 minutes, Aatu Räty not only played positionally sound hockey but scored his first career NHL goal, which gave the New York Islanders a 3-1 lead.
After following in on the forecheck, Räty corraled a loose puck, made a quick move to the slot, and rifled the puck past Panthers netminder Sergei Bobrovsky as the New York Islanders crowd went into an absolute frenzy.
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“I was kind of watching at the jumbotron, and I didn’t even realize I made a move there. I just thought I got the puck and shot it. I felt like I almost blacked out,” Räty said following the game.
After the goal as we awaited the puck drop at center ice, “RA-TY” chants reigned down from the UBS Arena crowd.
“Yeah, it felt amazing. I didn’t even realize at first. I was thinking what were they yelling about? And then I was pretty sure it was my name,” Räty said.
As for where the puck is headed, Räty shared that it’s going back home.
“It’s coming to my home back in Finland,” Räty said. “We have a little trophy room for mine and my brother’s medals and hockey stuff. So that’s where it’s going.”
Out of necessity, with centerman Casey Cizikas day-to-day with an upper-body injury, the Islanders needed to call up a centerman. And there was some debate amongst the media and the fan base if Räty would be the player the Islanders chose to recall.
He’s just in his first full season with the Bridgeport Islanders and is considered their top prospect. The last thing general manager Lou Lamoriello wanted to do was rush him, which he told us back at training camp.
But the organization knew he was ready, and head coach Lane Lambert made that clear before puck drop.
“He’s played really well in Bridgeport. He’s a 200-foot player, plays both sides of the puck, and he’s played in all situations down there. For me, what I’ve seen is his compete level is very, very high. He’s having success, and it’ll translate,” Lambert said.
The Bridgeport Islanders had a game in Hartford on Friday night against the rival Wolfpack, the New York Rangers AHL affiliate. Räty was preparing for that contest when he found out he was headed to the show.
“In Bridgeport, we had a morning skate for today’s game. I was supposed to play in Hartford,” Räty said. “I was in the sauna. I heard the guys say coach wants to see you and I thought it was kind of a prank that the guys tell some young guy to go to the coach and they will actually have nothing.
“But this time…luckily I went there.”
Räty did have some time to prepare for the big occasion, but it seemed like the youngster had been preparing for this moment for a long time.
“Just the whole day felt surreal. This is something that I’ve wanted to do since I can remember and yeah this was so special and especially having a game like this with such a great crowd and getting a win,” Räty said.
New York Islanders head coach Lane Lambert had this to say about Räty’s performance.
“I thought he was really good,” New York Islanders head coach Lane Lambert said. “You can see, and that’s the one thing about him. I said before the game he plays on both sides of the puck, and so I thought defensively he was sound. He stays on people, and he understands angles and things like that. So I thought he was good.”
With a handful of forwards out injured, with another two in Brock Nelson and Simon Holmstrom leaving Friday’s contest, Aatu Räty’s time at the NHL level may be extended.
Räty will have to continue to build his game and learn the NHL game on the fly.
But after his first NHL game and what he showed, the sky seems to be the limit for Islanders’ top prospect Aatu Räty.