Less than two weeks ago, Vancouver's second-round pick in 2005 was wrapping up a stellar second season with the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs; now, he's earning ice time, points, and respect as a professional hockey player with one of the American Hockey League's hottest teams. For Raymond, the transition has been quick, exciting, and "a dream come true."
"I had a pretty good year (in college) - I felt good and I played well - so come the end of the year, there was a chance I was maybe going to be able to come up here and play with the Moose," he explains after a game-day practice. "Vancouver came to me and talked to my agents after the year and deals went through. Everything came through and here I am today."
"It's been my dream since I've been about five years old to play pro hockey, so the opportunity arose and I took it." PRO-DUCTIVE
Raymond has taken it alright, most recently to the Grand Rapids Griffins, Manitoba's divisional rivals. Despite a few first-shift jitters, the peppy winger gained confidence with increased ice time in his first professional hockey game March 23rd at the MTS Centre. Late in the third period, Raymond assumed a spot near the Griffins net and pounced on a rebound to pot the game-tying goal. The Moose went on to defeat the Griffins in a shootout, and Raymond was awarded third star honours for his productive performance.
The following night, the Calgary native suited up for his second pro game, earning his first assist and starting a point-streak before heading on a seven-game road swing with the Moose.
Two points in two games . . . Is it fair to say that Raymond is a welcome scoring surprise? So far, so good, says Moose head coach Scott Arniel.
"To go out and get that goal, the kid's got to be thrilled, I'm sure," Arniel said after Raymond's first game. "He used his speed and he used his ability to get open. He's got a few things there, a couple of rookie things that he did, [but] he'll catch on to what we do. He was a quick learner."
The ability to learn quickly - and eagerly - is a quality Manitoba GM Craig Heisinger likes to see in all players, especially prospects like Mason Raymond
. QUICK STUDY
"If you're a young player and you want to learn from older, veteran guys like Mike Keane, Lee Goren, and Wade Flaherty, it's a great opportunity. If you're a young player and you don't want to learn from them, then you choose not to," Heisinger says. "But it would seem to me that [Raymond's] personality will dictate that he'll want to learn from guys like that."
Raymond agrees with his GM's assessment.
"Guys like Keaner (Mike Keane) have helped me a lot already. They know the ropes, obviously, and they can show me how to do it," the rookie says. "Guys like Keaner, (Yannick) Tremblay, and all those other leaders up there, everybody's helped me a lot so far."
And the help looks to keep on coming: as Vancouver's primary AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose are charged with developing players and a winning record, a task the team takes to heart. While Heisinger says it's important for Raymond to get "a leg up for next year, so he doesn't come so wide-eyed and bushy-tailed," Raymond has his sights set on the specifics - like packing pounds on his 6'1" frame - and the test that awaits him in September: Canucks training camp.
"The off-season's going to be real key, to be in great shape going into pro camp," he says. "I think it's great to come in here and figure out a little bit of the ropes before summer comes, and it'll be nice to know how it goes before I come back and go to camp out in Vancouver next year. I'm just going to take my chances while I'm here and take the challenges as they come."
With nine regular-season games, the playoffs, off-season training, and Canucks camp on the horizon, there's no letting up for this likeable rookie. His days as a university student may be over, but Mason Raymond
's schooling has just begun.