By: Marisa Ingemi
There have been 78 NHL players to come out of Boston University, but nearly as impressive is the women’s class of Terriers playing pro. A much younger program producing players for much younger leagues, the National Women’s Hockey League is also flooded with Terrier talent.
One of those is Kaleigh Fratkin, a defender with the New York Riveters.
The first Canadian to sign in the NWHL, Fratkin began her career in the CWHL with the Boston Blades before signing with the Connecticut Whale in 2015. Before her pro career, however, Fratkin was making a name with the Terriers.
“Coming into BU, at the time the only thing I was aware of was the Canadian national team,” Fratkin said of a career after college. “I was involved with Canada with the U18 team. That was the biggest thing growing up, playing Olympics.”
After playing with the U18 team, and then two junior programs in Canada, Fratkin landed at BU, where she won a national title and headed to the Blades after picking up a career high 30 points as a senior.
“I chose to play for the Blades was because I knew at the time I could coach in the NCAA or be athletic adviser,” Fratkin said. “It didn’t make sense to go back to Canada, so I could get the best of both worlds.”
After one season with the Blades, where she played in 22 games and put up eight points from the blue line, Fratkin made the leap to the NWHL.
“The mindset was to be paying players and being a players league,” Fratkin said of the switch. “The CWHL opened my eyes to a pro league and being paid as something I really don’t think I knew how much I wanted until I graduated. The biggest thing for girls growing up is getting a scholarship and Olympics.
“The NWHL came in and said ‘we want hockey to be really pro we’re gonna pay players and grow it.’ That’s the mindset that I’ve really been wanting and didn’t know that until I did play CWHL.”
After one season with the Whale, Fratkin signed with the Riveters, where she is teammates with a fellow former Terrier in Rebecca Russo. Fratkin had 17 points in her first pro season, and thus far in ten games for an improving Rivs club, she has scored once with three assists.
Like many other former Terriers, Fratkin credits her quick success to the program at BU.
“The biggest thing was getting the experience of playing in those high pressured games,” Fratkin said. “BU was a newer program but in my freshman year we were frozen four. To start by going to the finals best way to get experience as college player. Brian [Durocher] did a great job not pushing us too quickly.
“As a freshman, you had to play dues. While I got chances to be on the power play and penalty kill, I wasn’t on first unit right away. The opportunity to pay dues and allow me to work really hard to try to make first unit, it was great to learn ropes of college hockey and that prepared me for the pro game.”
While college hockey is a high level of competition, and playing in a conference like Hockey East can prepare players for facing high quality talent, there are differences that make playing in the NWHL its own challenge.
“Pro is different,” said Fratkin. “You’re not playing 40 games. You can tell on the ice, we were all really good college players. It has to do with confidence and you’re not practicing as much.”
Fratkin is teammates with Russo on the Rivs, and the Whale have their own pair of former Terriers with Anya Battaglino and Shannon Doyle. The only four BU players in the NWHL ranks, the CWHL also boasts six players who adorned the Walter Brown ice as a Terrier, something Fratkin has taken note of.
“It’s awesome,” she said. “It’s a testament to how good BU hockey is now. It’s a really well established program. I see players who were a part of inaugural years and seeing them continuing playing hockey shows how good development is.”
The ability to continue playing hockey is something Fratkin is thankful for, and something she didn’t always expect.
“After sophomore year I was there [with the national team] and that was my only focus for two years,” Fratkin said. “Junior year, I was aware of the CWHL and then I realized I’m involved with national team, but if I don’t make it, where do I go? I remember after junior year that summer I had been invited to U22 camp and got to a roadblock with hockey. Am I done if it doesn’t pan out?
“I thought senior year was my last year. If you’re a male player, if you’re staying to senior year, you’re excited because you can go pro overseas or ECHL or anything. To see options for my brother who played pro after graduating, I was like, what am I going to do? I’m going to need to find balance that I can’t make a living but want to pursue it.”
Because of the NWHL and the CWHL, and the growth of the women’s side of the sport, players like Fratkin and other BU talent have been able to extend their careers.
“I was going to be done after I was released from national team,” she said. “Then NWHL came about, and one door closed and another opened.”