By Tyler Lowey, Times Reporter
The hockey team formerly known as the UFA Bisons produced a lot of Western Hockey League, Junior A and college players throughout the years. But for the first time in the franchise’s history, they have produced an Olympian.
Cochrane’s Mason Raymond will don the Maple Leaf when the puck drops in the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics.
“I grew up like most Canadians, I wanted to play in the NHL. I never dreamt of playing in the Olympics, but circumstances have changed, and I am lucky enough to be one of the 25 guys who are going to do anything we can to bring a gold medal home,” said Raymond.
NHL players are not at the Olympics this year due to a series of disputes between the NHL and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) with regards to the cost of having NHL players at the games. The NHL wanted travel, insurance and accommodations paid for, among other things. The IOC refused to cover those costs, leaving the greatest players in the world out of the Olympic Games.
Lucky for Raymond, he wasn’t playing in the NHL for the first time in a decade — other than one year in Europe during the 2012-13 lock-out.
“I heard some rumblings last summer about the NHL not going to the games. That’s when I turned my focus to playing overseas and potentially be an Olympian,” said Raymond. “I wanted to play for Canada; it was a goal I set for myself. When I got the official call in January saying I made the team, it was pretty surreal and a dream come true.”
The official announcement didn’t come as a complete surprise for Raymond, who was one of the many players who has been touring Europe and Asia competing in tournaments this season, as Team Canada General Manager Sean Burke tried to narrow down his list of players.
Raymond’s performance with the national program, extensive success that saw him record 115 goals and 251 points in 546 career NHL games and 17 goals this season for the SC Bern in 34 games of the National League in Switzerland, made him an ideal candidate for the Olympic team.
Raymond joins a star-studded list loaded with former NHL players such as Rene Bourque, Chris Kelly, Ben Scrivens and Wojtek Wolski.
Any time a Canadian club enters a tournament of any magnitude, the expectations of dominance and hearing the national anthem being played at the end of the tournament can be burdensome.
“I’ve basically played in Canadian markets for my whole NHL career, so I know all about the pressure to perform. I think it’s going to be a pretty level playing field at the Olympics and a lot of countries are going to have pressure on them to win. Hockey Canada has done a great job to prepare us for this moment, we just need to go out and play hockey and the rest will take care of itself,” said Raymond.
The journey through the world of hockey continues to grow and forge new memories for Raymond. Even though he will be competing on the biggest stage, he hasn’t forgotten about his roots.
“I have very fond memories in Strathmore. I still have some friends in the area and I do some business there now. Playing in Strathmore was a big stepping stone for me in my path for my career. It’s unfortunate they don’t have a team there anymore, but I still have my jersey from my time there and that season meant a lot to me,” said Raymond, who scored 14 goals and racked up 40 points in 33 games back in the 2002-03 Alberta Midget Hockey League season for the Bisons. He also scored racked up nine goals and 20 points in nine playoff games that season.
Canada and Raymond opened up a pre-tournament game against Latvia Feb. 4. Raymond was slotted on the second line as a left winger beside Kelly and Christian Thomas. Canada downed the Latvians 2-0 and blanked Team Belarus by an identical score two days later. Canada will drop the puck in a meaningful game Feb. 15 when they take on Team Switzerland at the Kwandong Hockey Centre in Gangneung, Korea. All of Canada’s games can be watched live on CBC.