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Raymond Making All the Right Moves

by Lonnie Herman / Tampa Bay Lightning

Martin Raymond wasn’t ever sure he would make the move. Why chance it, Raymond figured, when he was so happy and content where he was. After all, 17 seasons behind the bench at prestigious McGill University in Montreal was certainly something to savor and take pride in. For 14 of those seasons he was the head coach. In 2008 he had guided the Redmen to a league championship, the first time that McGill brought home the Queen’s Cup since 1946. That was 62 years between titles.

The press was calling Raymond “the face of McGill hockey”, and he might have earned that title. His connection to the University began as a player, where he registered 109 goals and 253 points in 154 career games over the course of five seasons. In 1991-92, his final season on the ice for McGill, he made All-Canadian status and was named McGill’s male athlete of the year and team MVP. Couple that with being named the OUA (Ontario University Athletics) Eastern Coach of the Year in 2000, 2005, 2006 and 2009, and you can see why Martin Raymond was an icon at McGill.

Leave the school? He’d been tempted before, but he never could talk himself into it.

“I was very happy with things at McGill,” Raymond said. “It was a great environment and a great school. We had built the program thru the alumni, it was getting where we wanted it – winning a national championship is always one of your goals, in addition to graduating kids and making sure they become good people in society, which was very important.”

But this time, the coach recruiting him was someone very different. Someone Raymond had known since they were teens in the neighborhood together. The pursuer, Guy Boucher with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL, used to date Raymond’s sister when Boucher was 16-years-old and had looked up to Raymond as someone special. Boucher had admired Raymond’s work ethic and integrity.  He followed Raymond’s footsteps to McGill, playing as his line-mate and eventually serving as the team captain while Raymond coached the team.

When Guy Boucher finished his career on the ice and turned to coaching, it was his friend Martin Raymond that gave him his first job, working under Raymond at McGill. Boucher had moved on from there, taking the route of coaching in the major junior ranks and enjoying success, and now had been named the new head coach of the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL, top affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens.

Boucher was now asking to Raymond to come on board as his assistant coach. The tables were turning.

“Sometimes in the past we’d kid back and forth – he’d say, ‘Maybe we should coach together,’ and I’d say, ‘Yeah, I’ll be your assistant coach someday,’” Raymond laughed. “We were just half-kidding, tongue-in-cheek. Then Guy started to have strong success in junior and I was having strong success at McGill at the same time. We spoke almost every week and kind of helped each other out. He would call me if he needed some feedback on what to do with a certain player or situation. And I would do the same with him. We’d share thoughts on different situations.”

So the working relationship had been established before Raymond ever went to work for Boucher, but even with the job offer now on the table for real, Raymond just wasn’t sure. And neither was Boucher.

“I never thought he’d leave McGill,” Boucher said. “Marty Raymond is synonymous with McGill hockey, McGill’s success and McGill’s rebuilding of the hockey program.”

It wasn’t just the history of hockey at McGill, which, as the first hockey club ever formed in 1877, was formidable enough, there were some other concerns that were making it hard for Raymond to leave collegiate hockey.

“I used to think that professional players wouldn’t have the same dedication as the players at McGill,” Raymond explained. “That was the information I had from people, that the pros was a very difficult environment and some of the pro players were not really motivated.”

But in the end, it was his respect for Boucher and Boucher’s belief in the program at Hamilton that swayed Raymond.

“I finally accepted the coaching position at Hamilton because Guy had a good feeling with the organization,” Raymond said.  “For me to leave McGill, I wanted to be sure I’d be in the same environment I had known. We’re always a product of our environment. If the environment is good, the players will follow the perception of the organization in that respect. The reason why I left McGill is because I had the assurance that the people in the Montreal organization, and at Hamilton, were real good people.  We were going to be surrounded with a similar situation that I had at McGill, that was the whole reason why I joined Hamilton.”

The year went well for Raymond at Hamilton, and soon there was another situation to consider. When Boucher was named the coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning, he extended an invitation to Raymond to come along. As ever, Raymond gave it lots of thought before agreeing.

“I could have stayed in Hamilton, but Guy had a strong conviction that Steve Yzerman was a good person,” Raymond recalled. “If it had been somebody else or a different environment where the situation would have been tough to coach in, and I wasn’t going to be able to have a good relationship with the players and they weren’t going to respect me as a person and a coach, then I wouldn’t have come here. So it is all really following Guy’s sense of the situation, because he was the one who had the information regarding the situation here. He said the environment was good and that, yes, we’ll have the same environment that we had before.”

That was the assurance Martin Raymond needed and that was what he got. When reviewing the situation, Raymond, now in his second year of coaching professionally, thinks he has been lucky.

“Here with the Lightning we have a good group of players with good locker room leadership,” Raymond said. “Marty St. Louis is fantastic. He and Steven Stamkos, who is a superstar in this league, and Vincent Lecavalier; these guys were well-raised and they are fun to work with. The rest of the group as well. But the ones that are most prominent set the tone – it helps the other guys because they see how the leaders conduct themselves.”

With the Lightning, Raymond handles the second power play unit and spends much of his time perched high above the ice in the press box.

“It’s a bit of a different role,” Raymond explained. “That’s been interesting to me and has given me a different perspective. This is a bigger staff than I’m used to – we have a full-time video coach so we have more tools and more resources to use, so I have to adjust to that”

The game is faster and the caliber of play is consistently higher, night after night. The travel, also, is more intense and has taken some getting used to. But generally, the adjustment to the NHL is just as Raymond expected it to be and he is enjoying his position. That’s a good thing, when you consider the sacrifices he is making.

“My family is not here with me. We decided that we wouldn’t relocate them,” Raymond said. “My kids are 15 and 13 now, so they are in the same school. They have their friends and support network. If they were six or seven, maybe, we’d view it differently, but they are teenagers now. Having me away is tough, especially on my wife, but all-in-all I’d rather be here. I think this is the sacrifice we have to make in order for the kids to be in an environment in which they will do well.”

That adjustment has been made easier by what Raymond has found here in Tampa.

“This is a great town,” Raymond enthused. “There are really good people here. Everyone has been very helpful.”

It’s a cautious road that the cerebral Raymond follows. One without many ups or downs.

“I believe in the middle path in a lot of the things I do,” he explained. “That’s the way I’ve always done things. I need to be balanced. It’s a balancing act, for sure.

Ultimately, for Raymond, working alongside his long-time friend is the real payoff.

“Guy is a very strong personality. Very outgoing, very extroverted.” Raymond said.  “I always appreciated him for his work ethic and his intelligence. He’s smart and fun to talk with. He’s a very compassionate person, too.”

With these two long-time friends, it’s truly a mutual admiration society.

“The biggest thing about Marty is he’s so humble,” Boucher explained.  “You have to go to him and ask him what he thinks but he’ll always have an idea.”

And then, there is Raymond’s work ethic – as admired today as it was back when Boucher was a young man in Quebec, learning from his friend.

“You see how he works – he’s here at 6 a.m. and he leaves at midnight every day,” Boucher said. “That’s how he is and that’s how he was back then.”

Of course, you can put him in the heat of the action, right in the middle of an NHL playoff race, but some perceptions never change.

“Marty Raymond?” Boucher laughed. “He IS McGill.”

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