Brogan Rafferty: His Difficult Hockey Journey from Illinois to Quinnipiac
Updated: Mar 14, 2020
By: Jake Ziegler & Mackensie Judge
"There will be obstacles. There will be doubters. There will be mistakes. But with hard work, there are no limits.”
- Michael Phelps
When Brogan Rafferty was just six years old, his grandfather brought him to a roller hockey rink to watch a game while his parents were away on vacation. Rafferty, now a junior defenseman on Quinnipiac, begged his grandfather to sign him up for roller hockey.
Rafferty signed up and played until eight years old, commencing his journey from Dundee, Illinois, to a Division I ice hockey team. However, Rafferty’s mother wasn’t too fond of her son’s performance at the time.
“I don’t think this is the sport for him; we should try another sport,” she said while watching one of his games.
Rafferty himself was of a similar mindset; he wasn’t confident with his abilities at the time.
“When I first started playing, I was one of the worst players,” Rafferty said. “I would basically run around on my plastic roller blades and fall over all the time. I barely touched the puck my first few games because I was so bad.”
On the flip side, Rafferty's father, Brian, knew Brogan could succeed in anything he wanted to pursue based on his childhood behavior.
“Brogan was very driven; anything he ever did he spent extra time doing it,” Rafferty's father said. “It didn’t matter if it was school work or sports. He designed his own bedroom and made six different drawings when he was just 10 years old.”
Furthermore, even though it was dim at the time, Brian saw some potential in Rafferty’s abilities on the ice.
“He was very smart on the ice, but didn’t have the strength or the size the other kids did,” Brian said. “He had to overcome a lot because he was a small kid. He had a late growth spurt, but the smartness on the ice was what really took off."
In addition to being a late bloomer, Rafferty playing hockey at Quinnipiac didn’t come without extra adversity along the way. He overcame two other personal, uncontrollable disadvantages, such as being legally blind in his right eye and diagnosis of scoliosis. As a result, Rafferty was compelled to spend extra time and effort to overcome these obstacles and continually enhance his game.
Rafferty explained how the size disadvantage ultimately served as motivation in his game.
“Growing up, I was always the smallest kid on my team,” Rafferty said. “For most kids, this would be a major setback or ending point in their career, but it just made me work harder.”
Miller said that Rafferty’s valiant work ethic made these disadvantages unnoticeable.
“He never made excuses for anything,” Miller said. “It was like something that you would never even know about unless you asked him.”
On the other hand, Liam said, “This just goes to his character; it showed that he wanted it badly and nothing was going to get in his way of doing what he wanted.”
Rafferty then played ice hockey from age eight to 17 in his hometown, Dundee, as a center with the Crystal Lake Leafs and Northwest Chargers. But, at 17 during a summer junior showcase, Rafferty transitioned from a center to a defenseman. This was because Rafferty's father suggested his son to try out defense and see how he liked it.
His father recommended Rafferty to make that adjustment not only because the game of hockey was quickly changing, but also since this would benefit Rafferty’s game the most.
“I suggested him to play defense because by then, he was a really good skater, he handled the puck, he was responsible with the puck and the game of hockey was changing at the highest levels,” Brian said. “He took to it naturally, and it took him about three months to get used to it.”
Once Rafferty made this position change, he set himself a goal to make Team Illinois in the Triple-A level of competition. After years of unsuccessful tryouts, Rafferty made the roster by the edge of his skate only because one of five coaches, named AJ Degenhardt, believed Rafferty was ready to advance his game to the next level.
Soon after Rafferty made this team, Degenhardt departed for another coaching opportunity with Coulee Region Chill of the National American Hockey League (NAHL). Degenhardt convinced the other four coaches to give Rafferty a shot to prove himself. These coaches were unsure of bringing in Rafferty since he came from Double-A level of competition, and it was the first year of his transition to defense. Nevertheless, these four doubtful coaches conceded and gave Rafferty a chance.
Once Rafferty completed one season with Team Illinois, contributing one goal, seven assists in 31 games played, Degenhardt kept a close eye and checked in on Rafferty’s progress. Then, he gave Rafferty an exciting phone call, welcoming Rafferty to join his junior team's roster with the Coulee Region Chill. Without hesitation, Rafferty took advantage of this opportunity, and accepted the invitation.
Rafferty was relieved to have something to show for the time and effort he spent improving his game.
“Being one of the smallest kids and transitioning to a different position, it was a relief to finally see some of my hard work pay off,” Rafferty said. “I was a smaller kid growing up, but finally hit my growth spurt around 17, 18 years old. It felt like a huge step in the right direction.”
Rafferty’s younger brother, Liam, who has also played hockey for multiple years, provided insight about what Rafferty’s hard work looked like behind the scenes.
“He’s had to work incredibly hard, there were no shortcuts for him,” Liam said. “After working out in the gym, he’d go to the track and sprint with us. I’d always see him in the driveway working on his stick handling for hours at a time.”
Meanwhile, Rafferty hung out with a large group of friends growing up in his hometown neighborhood, and Nick Miller was one of them. Miller has been playing hockey for 16 years, and plays on the club team for University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Miller got the chance to play with Rafferty in a few tournaments throughout the years, and he complemented Rafferty in certain areas of his game.
“He’s very skilled, and was always the guy with best hands out there,” Miller said. “He’s very smart with the puck and knew how to make the most out of scoring chances.”
After playing a season for Coulee Region, while accumulating three goals and 19 assists in 53 games played, Rafferty started obtaining interest not just in college hockey, but specifically in division one. Although this successful season wasn’t enough to advance to the top tier of Juniors in the United States Hockey League (USHL), Rafferty remained on Degenhardt’s squad for another season as an assistant captain. Rafferty had yet another great season, capturing four goals and 28 assists in 56 games played.
As the college decision process rolled around, Rafferty looked for a small-sized campus with reputable academics, particularly in the finance field. Fortunately, Rafferty and his parents received an overwhelming number of calls from schools, putting huge smiles on their faces.
“Everything happened pretty quick; there were about 17 division one hockey schools that called very quickly,” Brian said. “I had him make a list of all the schools that made contact with him and then told him to make a top 10 list. Education was huge in his decision, not just hockey.”
Before Rafferty made this crucial decision, associate coach Bill Riga from Quinnipiac came to watch Rafferty play at the NAHL All-Star showcase in Michigan. Soon thereafter, Riga offered Rafferty a scholarship to play for Quinnipiac. After a careful evaluation process, Rafferty decided to accept that scholarship and attend Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut to major in finance and play for the Bobcats. Quinnipiac hockey is affiliated with the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC).
After Rafferty’s second year with Coulee Region, he was drafted in the second round to a USHL team called the Bloomington Thunder. With one season with Bloomington under Rafferty's belt, which featured two goals and 26 assists in 60 games played, Rafferty spent the following summer at Quinnipiac training to enter as a freshman.
Rafferty verbally pledged to Quinnipiac in February of 2015; however, there was one slight issue with the timing of this commitment.
At this juncture, Quinnipiac was in the midst of a historical 15-16' season, reaching the Frozen Four in the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament. Here, they advanced all the way to the national championship game, where they would come up short against a North Dakota lineup filled with top National Hockey League (NHL) prospects. That said, Quinnipiac informed Rafferty to take another year to refine and make progression in his skillset before joining the team.
“They had a really good team that year, so I knew there wouldn’t be a spot for me just yet,” Rafferty said.
Next season would be Rafferty’s first with Quinnipiac. The National Honor Society member had an outstanding freshman campaign, leading the team with 22 assists. This was the first time a Quinnipiac freshman led the squad in assists since the 11-12' season. In addition, Rafferty earned a spot on the 16-17' ECAC All-Academic Team.
This season Quinnipiac is 14-3-0, 6-2 in ECAC play and nationally ranked No. 8, according to USCHO.com. More notably, the Bobcats blanked the No. 1 nationally ranked University of Massachusetts Amherst Minutemen at home by a final score of 4-0. As of Dec. 9, 2018, Rafferty has played in 87 games, while contributing eight goals and 39 assists for a total of 47 points since joining the team.
Brian said Rafferty’s family is absolutely stunned at what Brogan has been able to accomplish.
“Since he started getting interest at 19 years old, and after never making a state all-star team, we were blown away that he made division one, and still are,” Brian said.
Miller said he and Rafferty’s relatives got the opportunity to attend and watch Brogan practice with the Blackhawks.
“It was awesome to see him in an NHL uniform,” Miller said. “His professionalism was top-notch. It was like you knew he was supposed to be there.”
Rafferty made himself clear that one of his main goals is to go professional and make hockey a full-time occupation. Liam visualizes Rafferty’s goal becoming a reality.
“I can totally see it happening; I have complete faith in him,” Liam said. “I have no doubt that he’ll become pro someday because he just keeps working hard and getting better.”
Connor Clifton, a former Quinnipiac hockey player, signed a contract with the Boston Bruins after graduating in 2017. Clifton played with its American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Providence Bruins, during the 17-18' season. More currently, Clifton was recruited to play with the Boston Bruins, where he made his NHL debut in November of 2018.
Rafferty tweeted at his former teammate, congratulating Clifton on the success he's achieved so far in his hockey career.
Meanwhile, the thought of professional hockey never came to Brian’s mind initially. Nevertheless, he spoke first-hand with NHL personnel about Rafferty during the summer camps.
“We’re unbelievably humbled meeting general managers from NHL teams and telling us how much they like our son,” Rafferty's father said. “It’s something you don’t even dream of as a parent.”
So, who knows? Maybe the hockey world will see Rafferty in an NHL jersey someday.
Note to readers: For our project we started by conducting elaborate interviews with Brogan, his dad, his brother and his best friend. We then incorporated a variety of photos of Brogan. The pictures include Brogan with his friends and family, as well as pictures of him playing hockey. A few of the photos are current day pictures of him playing for Quinnipiac, and some of the others are of him as a kid just beginning to play. We also included a short highlight video of him in game action playing for the Bobcats against the No. 1 ranked University of Massachusetts Amherst Minutemen on Dec. 7, 2018 below. As far as our news distribution, we tweeted Brogan’s story on Twitter and mentioned him and the team in the tweet. Lastly, for audience engagement we encourage that our readers will leave questions, comments and/or feedback about Brogan's story, in hopes they’re inspired or motivated by it.