Jake Ratcliffe is set to make history when he heads over to the United States in August to play NCAA ice hockey.
He’ll be the first Kiwi-born male to play college-level hockey, joining female goalie Grace Harrison – currently at St Lawrence University in New York.
But you’ve probably heard of him before.
Indeed, the name will sound familiar for many from the north and south – Jake spent three years with the Red Devils in the NZIHL, before linking up with the West Auckland Admirals in 2015.
Now, he’s moving over to Westfield, Massachusetts to study and play hockey at Westfield State University, which competes in the NCAA Division III competition.
And you might be forgiven for thinking Jake is American by birth – judging by the subtle twang that comes out in his voice every few words – but he’s as Kiwi as they come.
Born in Canterbury, Jake’s parents – both Kiwis – probably didn’t think their son would be playing ice hockey in his early years.
“I picked it up when I was about eight years old,” Jake said.
“I just played street hockey with all the kids on my street. We had a bit of a cul-de-sac there and we just started playing and I really enjoyed it so I picked up ice and never looked back.”
Rather than some of the hard-noised rugby kids born and bred in the Canterbury region, Jake preferred the allure of sticks and skates.
“I think I just love the speed of it all,” he said.
“It’s pretty challenging, but once you figure out how to skate its so much fun because you’re sort of just flying around out there.”
Jake did enough to be noticed in his early years, playing junior hockey for Canterbury before landing a gig with a boarding school and hockey academy in Canada for three years.
After returning home, he took every opportunity he got to go back and play junior hockey in Massachusetts whenever it was the off-season back home in the NZIHL.
“I left when I was pretty young,” Jake said.
“I think it just helps a lot, every time you go over there and comeback you just notice everything has gotten a lot better.”
“It’s a lot more consistent than back here. Pretty much everyone is a similar level and there’s a lot more systems in place.”
But Jake wasn’t just going over for fun.
The 20-year-old was on a mission to take his hockey further, and had his eyes set firmly on the big-time.
“The whole point of that was to try and get recruited by colleges,” Jake said.
“You play a lot of games and college coaches will come to watch and if they like what they see they will get in touch with you and tell you to apply to the school.
“I had a couple, maybe three or four that I was pretty serious about. In the end, Westfield State was just kind of the right fit for me.”
Now, Jake’s busy training his socks off, working a job to save up as much money as he can, and study up for what promises to be a bumper four years of college mayhem.
As for the hockey, he’s hoping it doesn’t stop there.
“I’d definitely like to continue playing after college if I can,” he said.
“For now, I’m just focused on going for the fours years and doing as well as I can. If there’s an opportunity to play professionally after that I’d definitely like to explore them.”
Written by Sam Hewat