Raymond off to an impressive start at Minnesota-Duluth

By DJ Powers

When the University of Minnesota-Duluth began their 2005-06 season back in October, the focus was primarily on the team’s large and talented freshman class and how the rookies would perform.

One rookie who has begun to establish himself is Mason Raymond.

The Calgary, Alberta native has been nothing short of impressive thus far. He currently leads the Bulldogs in scoring with 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists) and has already started turning more than a few heads around the college hockey community with his combination of excellent vision, speed, tenacity and creative offensive skills.

Raymond came to Minnesota-Duluth from the AJHL’s Camrose Kodiaks, where he amassed an astounding 102 points (49 goals, 53 assists) last season. He also earned the AJHL’s Most Valuable Player Award.

Adjusting to the college game from a junior “A” league is something that every college hockey freshman goes through, and Raymond is no different. The size, strength and speed of college players were aspects of college hockey to which Raymond had to acclimate himself. Speed and the reduced schedule are two areas that have been the most difficult for Raymond to adjust to.

“The speed of the game, especially with the DECC’s small rink, is a big adjustment,” said Raymond in a recent interview with Hockey’s Future. “It’s a very quick, speed game. It’s a big, big difference that I’ve noticed from juniors. Another big, huge adjustment for me was the amount of games that you play. When you’re going from playing a total of 93 games last year to playing just twice a week, it’s a lot different. It’s a lot to adjust to, so you have to make sure that every night is a good one,” said Raymond, “I find that I’m making progress every week. I don’t feel that I’m at where my full potential is yet. It’s getting better all the time. I’m pleased with the way the progress is going.”

With such a large freshman class (11 in all), Minnesota-Duluth has had to rely on their rookies to shoulder much of the team’s responsibility from the outset, something that hasn’t been lost on Raymond. He has welcomed and thrived on the challenge placed upon him. “With losing so many guys, there’s that pressure on us (freshmen) to step up and be able to take some different roles. I really enjoy having that pressure and to be expected to handle the challenges that go with it. I expect those things of myself as well and look forward to new challenges all the time.”

One way that can perhaps best describe Raymond is a catalyst. The Bulldogs freshman has the uncanny ability to make things happen on the ice, whether it is setting up a play or goal or be the individual who can give his team the spark that it needs.

Raymond speaks quite candidly about his desire to continually get better, both as a hockey player and as a person. He credits much of what he’s learned about “life skills” and getting to where he is now to his Camrose coach Boris Rybalka.

“I can’t say enough good things about Boris Rybalka and what he did for me in those two years at Camrose. What I learned in Camrose helped me get to where I am today. He taught me to do whatever I can to get better and better. He taught me not only things about hockey but also taught me many, many life skills that I’ll remember forever.”

The work ethic that was instilled in Raymond at Camrose was brought to Minnesota-Duluth and it has been an attribute that continues to serve him well. Raymond isn’t content on sitting on his laurels. His desire to continually improve every aspect of his game is something that drives him each and every day at school. “There’s always improvement in any part of your game, and no one is perfect. I try to work on everything every day. You can never master something so easily,” says Raymond. “One area that I really try to work on is defense. I guess it’s just the area that I felt that I could always perfect on. It starts out at your own end and you work from there.”

Raymond has learned another valuable lesson from his present coach Scott Sandelin – the mental side of hockey. “Coach (Sandelin) has taught me to understand that each night is a battle, a war and that on any given night anyone can win, especially playing in the WCHA. He’s helped me to understand the mental preparation of going into the game and being prepared for any kind of outcome.”

While Raymond’s ability to score goals wasn’t much of a concern coming into Minnesota-Duluth, his thin frame and lack of strength were. It has been the areas where he has focused most on improving.

“It’s one of my biggest goals down here and one of the reasons why I chose to go to UMD. I wanted to come here to work on my off-ice training. I wasn’t the biggest guy, I was always the tiniest guy growing up, going through bantam and pee-wee. I was always the tiniest guy on my team. I was a late bloomer. My off-ice training is a huge goal of mine. Having been in and seen some of the games already, it brings a smile to my face to see that it’s all paying off. The off-ice training is a huge, huge goal of mine here and I’m putting in a lot of time on that.”

Raymond says that while doing strength and conditioning work at school is beneficial, he gets his ultimate workouts back home in Canada during the summer. Among the individuals that Raymond works out with are Rhett Warrener and Jason Wiemer of the Calgary Flames and says that the two both inspire as well as push him in the right direction.

“I work out at NSD (National Sports Development, a sports development and conditioning training facility in Calgary). You’re in small groups of four and they have an unbelievable trainer there named Sean Hope-Ross that I work with. I hit the gym six times a week. I’m on the ice anywhere from three, four or five times a week. There is lots of cardio and you have to keep up with the weights. I do a couple of days on my legs and couple of days on my upper body. I have to work hard on the cardio. You’re also on the ice at the same time. I think the only way that you can get into game shape is to be on the ice. You’re on the ice four or five times a week and every day. Come August, it helps you to come into (NCAA) camp feeling energetic and in the shape that you feel that you’re ready to play games in.

“I work out with some NHL guys in Rhett Warrener and Jason Wiemer. When you become close friends with those guys and work out with them, you see what it takes to get to the next level and the work ethic that’s needed to get into shape and to get to that (NHL) level. They also make it fun for me. It’s very fun to go work out with them every day. You see those guys and they’ll joke around with you, but when it comes time to work out, you have to work out. They know what it takes. They’re there and they’ve been where I am at right now. It’s neat to watch them. I’ve learned a lot from them.”

Warrener and Wiemer aren’t the only NHL players who have been an inspiration to Raymond. The Minnesota-Duluth freshman tries to model his style of play after his idol, Mike Modano.

“I love the way he plays. He’s quick and a smart hockey player. He sees the ice well, good leadership and so forth. He’s the guy that I look up to,” said Raymond.

In the summer of 2005, the Vancouver Canucks selected the Calgary native in the second round (51st overall) in the NHL Entry Draft. It was a dream come true for Raymond.

“I was ecstatic, just to even be drafted, period. You never thought the day would come when it would happen and when it does it’s like a dream come true. Obviously, being from Calgary, the Flames were always my favorite team and I’ve always cheered for them but I couldn’t have asked for a better place to hopefully be one day. It’s close to home in Canada and a great hockey town. The people in Vancouver love their hockey and support their team very well. It’s a great team and a good franchise. It was unbelievable and I was very ecstatic that they drafted me. I’m really looking forward to see what the future brings.”

The option to play in the Canadian Major Junior League was something Raymond considered, but felt that playing college hockey was what was best for him.

“I had the option to go the Canadian Major Junior route, but in the back of my mind I’ve always wanted to go the NCAA route. It was pretty hyped up to me and it was something that I always wanted to pursue. To me, it’s killing two birds with one stone right now because I can go play hockey and get a college education at the same time. NCAA was always my ultimate goal as far as the next step in my hockey career.”

Before committing to playing for the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Raymond was recruited by several other schools including the University of Denver, Western Michigan and the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. For Raymond, Minnesota-Duluth was the perfect fit.

“The league (WCHA) and the coaching staff are two reasons why I chose to come to Duluth. I knew that they were losing 11 guys and knowing that I would be able to come in here and play a lot and be an impact player right away was another reason. There were just so many things that I liked about the school and everything fell into place. The location is great and it has worked out really well for me. I didn’t want to go to a big school where I was going to be just another number.”

And for the University of Minnesota-Duluth, the Vancouver Canucks, and their fans, they couldn’t have asked for a more special and modest player.

Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.