It was in this basement in the city of Airdrie, Alberta, with a population of less than 80,000, that Rattie would hone a skillset that blew NHL scouts away—leading one prospect report to gush that Rattie “could stickhandle his way out of a phone booth.” In a portent of things to come, the promising right wing would represent Canada at the World Juniors in Ufa—making a summer stop in Yaroslavl, the future launch point of his overseas career.
The St. Louis Blues selected Rattie 32nd overall in the first round of the 2011 Entry Draft. After a frustrating few seasons in and out of NHL lineups, Rattie arrived in Russia alongside ex-Oilers GM Craig MacTavish last summer, and has since posted 13 points in 20 games for Torpedo, a squad he joined in October.
I caught up with Rattie during his latest home series in Nizhny Novgorod. We discussed his first experience in Russia back in 2013, a near pro-career in baseball and a few of the Russian words he’s mastered (one a day, as his Dad advised).
Gillian Kemmerer (GK): Canada beat Russia in the World Junior Championships this weekend. I saw a funny post from Nigel Dawes joking that he was cheering for Team Canada behind enemy lines.
Ty Rattie (TR): When I played in the World Juniors, the tournament was in Russia. It was kindof like a throwback! They take it seriously here in this country, and all of the players were talking about it. The final was exciting, and obviously I was still cheering a bit for Canada—but it was fun to watch it in Russia. The game was a little later with the time change, but I still stayed up for it.
GK: As you mentioned, you represented Team Canada at the World Juniors in Ufa. What was that experience like for you?
TR: My whole family was there—that was the really cool part. Obviously as a Canadian kid, it’s a dream come true to play for the world junior team. My little brother and both my parents came, so it was fun to share that with them and to have them [in Ufa] throughout the tournament.
GK: I read an article that said your family missed Christmas because of it!
TR: My Mom, Dad and little brother had a bunch of delayed flights. They spent Christmas in the Istanbul airport! I felt kindof bad for them. A few weeks later though, I got to go home for a week to Airdrie, Alberta and we had our own Christmas a little bit delayed.
GK: How much did you get to see of Russia on that trip?
TR: Team Canada did a summer trip before the tournament, and we ended up going to Yaroslavl for a game. Other than that, we were busy in Ufa for the tournament.
GK: That’s ironic, because your first KHL destination would turn out to be Yaroslavl.
TR: I know, it’s kindof weird how that worked out.
GK: One of the prospect profiles I read said that you could “stickhandle your way out of a phone booth.” Why that would ever be necessary, I don’t know! But where did the emphasis on such an impressive skillset begin?
TR: I grew up in a hockey-crazy family. When I was younger, my old man turned the basement into a little rink. He painted the lines and a Calgary Flames logo in the middle. I’d be down there for hours shooting pucks and watching Flames games. Those are just some of my earliest memories growing up, and obviously my Dad was a huge help with that.
Every year was a different coach, and you take different things from all of them. I think when you’re younger, your coaches are so important—and I was lucky to grow up in a great minor hockey system in Airdrie. We had coaches who always knew how to help you.
GK: So many Soviet-era hockey greats have attributed creativity to playing in backyards, on frozen ponds—and they’re disappointed because these traditions are fading. Your story about the basement reminds me of that.
TR: It helps. You watch NHL players do something cool on TV, and then all of a sudden you buzz downstairs to your basement and try it out. You never know—that could incorporate into your game on the ice. There are definitely coaches and programs out there who say that you have to play a certain way, and it’s just the way it is. Creativity is a great thing about the game, and I hope it stays.
I grew up in a little town that always had outdoor rinks and public skating—there were always options for us kids. I’ll always remember how supportive everyone was, and how enjoyable it was to play.
GK: Russians place enormous emphasis on skills and stickhandling, like you did growing up. How do you evaluate the skill level in the K?
TR: I think this league is very, very skilled. Just watching my teammates in practice and the way they can handle the puck, the little details in the way they shoot—you can tell they’ve been doing that for a long time, and it was instilled in them when they were younger. It is cool to see how hard these younger kids are working to become the players that they are.
GK: You grew up playing baseball and hockey—not an uncommon pairing! Gordie Howe did the same. Do you think playing multiple sports aided your athletic development?
TR: I love baseball. In the summertime, it just was nice to do something else. I had a core group of friends and we played the same sports, and baseball was just fun. We ended up becoming really good, and I got to a point where I had to choose between hockey and baseball. It was a hard decision because I loved baseball so much—just being outside, it’s a whole different team sport than hockey. It was good to get away from hockey for a bit and still keep in athletic shape.
GK: Let’s touch briefly on your time in the NHL. You drafted high but never quite broke into a lineup the way you would have wanted. Is there anything that stood in the way?
TR: It was unfortunate—I was successful in the minor leagues, I thought, and had a lot of good coaches and teammates. I just remember [in] my first year making the NHL, I ended up sitting the first 23-24 games. For that year alone, it kindof threw my timing off. It’s tough sitting out that long and then getting thrown in and keeping up with NHL pace. It’s not an easy league obviously, and you have to be “on" every night. That was a bit of a tough year. Other than that, I had consistency problems too. I’d play one good game and have a couple of tough ones. There were little things I could have done better, but no looking back. I’m happy with where I am right now and we’ll see what the future holds.
GK: And you got to spend some time on a line with Connor McDavid…
TR: Connor is a great guy off the ice, and everyone knows what he is on it. He’s not someone who gets mad if you make a mistake and he knows that not everyone is as gifted as he is. We tried our best to keep up, but Connor’s a lot of fun to be around and I am very happy that I got that experience.
GK: Speaking of Edmonton, I spoke with Anton Lander last week who coincidentally wound up in Yaroslavl with Craig MacTavish. From the reporting around your KHL arrival, it sounds like Craig brought you with him.
TR: It was an interesting summer. I remember getting a call from MacT pretty early, and I knew he was going over. We’ve had a strong relationship through my Edmonton days, and we had a good chat. He expressed an interest in me coming over with him, and I was a bit worried and nervous because it was a big change. But when a guy like MacTavish wants you to play for his team, it’s tough to say no.
He was already in Russia and knew what was going on at the training camps. He’s such a big name in the hockey world and I really value any advice or input he gives to my career. To have a familiar face going over as a coach, it was a huge help.
All guys have a little bit of nervousness because you don’t know what to expect. They do things a little differently here. I’m sure when [Russian players] come to North America, it’s the same way. I remember being very nervous on the flight over and first getting to my apartment. But once you get to the rink, you step onto the ice and it feels like home. Obviously the style is a little different than back home, but it’s all hockey and the guys are fun to be around.
GK: Despite his Russian last name, the head coach of Torpedo is Canadian!
TR: Yeah, he is—David [Nemirovsky] is from Toronto. He’s an awesome guy and I am really enjoying playing for David in Nizhny. He keeps a lot of open lines of communication with his players. He values our input, and I appreciate that in a coach.
GK: Are you picking up on any differences between how Russian and North American coaches run practices?
TR: A little bit. When Lokomotiv made the change and a Russian coach came in, practices did change. We had more battle practices and stuff like that. Back home, it’s more 5-on-5. In the end, we’re all trying to accomplish the same thing and these coaches are world class.
GK: How are you adjusting to a majority-Russian speaking locker room?
TR: Obviously we try to learn Russian and some guys know English, but when you can’t speak and want to speak with your teammate—it can be rough. It’s a bit of a barrier, but once you’re at the rink, you can use a translator. When we’re trying to make up plays or watching video, we are talking about the same thing and can understand each other. We get along just fine.
GK: So how is your Russian coming along?
TR: I am trying to pick it up as I go. I’m not studying with a teacher, but being here you’re constantly around it. I’m trying to pick up one word a day, as my dad told me to do it!
GK: It’s not an easy language, that’s for sure!
TR: [Laughs] No—I’ve screwed up привет and приятно. Those two get flipped in my head every once in a while! Every morning… привет, как дела, нормально, or something like that. That’s just my Russian startup sentence.
GK: I’m sure your teammates have taught you a few curse words.
TR: Yeah, I hear them every morning! Those words are hard to forget.
GK: Anton Lander says he is completely on Team Borscht. What’s your take on Russian food?
TR: [Laughs] Yeah, I remember Landy always being on the borscht! He’s a very good friend of mine, and was really good to me when I went to Loko. He and Staffan Kronwall showed me the ropes when it came to Russian food. I’m slowly getting on board, but it’s just like the language thing—a day at a time. New things here and there. The food here in Nizhny and some of the restaurants, I’ve really enjoyed them.
GK: Torpedo plays on the largest ice in the KHL. I know some North Americans have had issues adjusting to that at first.
TR: Conditioning-wise, you feel it a bit. I think the biggest difference I’ve noticed is that when you beat a guy 1-on-1, or you beat a guy wide, you really don’t beat him because you’re so far away from the net. On the smaller ice, you beat a guy 1-on-1 and you’re right there for a good scoring chance. That’s the biggest difference I’ve seen on the larger ice surface. There are positives and negatives for both ice sizes, and that’s just the way hockey is.
GK: Speaking of adjustment, you’ve already done the KHL’s biggest road trip—Beijing. How does Torpedo manage the time difference?
TR: I did it twice with Loko and Nizhny. The flight is long—I think about thirteen hours. You feel it, that’s for sure. Once we got to China, we stayed on Moscow time and that helped a bit. You practice in the middle of the night and sleep all day, wake up and go to the game. That trip to Kunlun-Admiral-Amur, you go without any daylight at all because you sleep during the day. That’s the toughest part that I had to get used to—the pure darkness for a week straight.
GK: I guess you need to invest in some great eyeshades…
TR: Or just hope that the hotels have good curtains! You’re so tired that you end up sleeping through it. On both trips, we wished we had gone a day earlier to explore China. We ended up flying just for the game, but I do hope I get to see Beijing one day.
GK: I know it’s early days, but has anything about this experience surprised you?
TR: I don’t know if people understand how good of a league this is, and how hard it is to play in. It’s not surprising at all, but it’s a very good league with very good players—no easy teams to beat.
The thing that I love is the home crowd we have [in Nizhny]. Every home game I’ve been a part of, its been sold out. We’ve had some tough games where we didn’t do so well, but the crowd is always extremely loud. I’ve really enjoyed the fan support we have.
GK: Torpedo is sitting right on the playoff cusp. What do you need to prioritize as we approach the last weeks of the regular season?
TR: I think consistency. We had a really good Far East/China trip, winning two out of three games. We felt good about ourselves, but came back and lost one at home here. We need to put a string of games together and push ourselves into the middle group of the standings. Our team is very skilled, well-coached and I like the group.
GK: Last question, as I pose to everyone—what’s your road trip entertainment?
TR: I am a Netflix guy. I might finish all of Netflix by the time this year is over. Vikings, any kind of murder show, any kind of movie…if you name a Netflix show, there’s a good chance I’ve seen it!