VANCOUVER – Mason Raymond won’t play his first game with his new Swedish team until Jan. 3, but the first big challenge of his overseas hockey adventure figures to come New Year’s Day when he and wife Megan make the long trek from Calgary with their active nine-month-old son Max.
Raymond was determined that if he was going to play overseas, his family was going to be along for the ride.
“The biggest thing for me in picking a spot over there was I wanted a good fit for my family,” Raymond said in a phone interview Thursday.
Raymond signed a deal this week with Orebro HK of the Swedish first division.
“To be honest I’ve had quite a few offers and I guess I was hopeful we’d have a deal done in the NHL earlier on,” Raymond said about the timing of his decision.
He doesn’t know much about his new team, other than the fact a good friend, former Colorado second-round pick Jared Aulin, told him it would be a good place to come and play.
“Knowing somebody going into this team helps,” Raymond said. “Jared grew up in Calgary as well. He’s a few years older than me and we never played hockey together but I got to know him growing up. He talked to me about the team and I’m happy things have worked out.”
Raymond also spoke to Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who joked about being able to converse with him in Swedish when he gets back.
“I just said I am going over to your homeland and they said. ‘enjoy it, it’s going to be fun.’ They were also joking about me learning a bit of Swedish.”
First, he’ll have to learn the names of his new teammates. He didn’t recognize many names when he scanned the team’s roster on the Internet.
“Carl Gunnarsion (a Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman) is there,” Raymond said. “After that, I don’t know much about them. I have done some looking on the Internet and that sort of stuff and I have talked to the GM a bit. But they sound like they are looking forward to having me and I am looking forward to going over. I think it’s just a great opportunity to play some hockey and get back to playing the game that I love.”
Raymond has spent most of the fall skating with a group of players in Calgary and feels like he’s as prepared as he can be to begin playing games.
“You are never going to be in game shape until you play real games, but I have been skating in Calgary with a great group of guys,” he said. “The Christmas season never helps for staying in the best of shape, but I do feel like I’m in the best shape I can be given the situation.”
Raymond remains hopeful that a NHL season can still be salvaged. And if it is, he figures the time he spends in Sweden will serve him well when he returns home to join the Canucks.
“I’ll go over there, play some hockey, get some experience and get back into good game shape and hopefully we can still get a season in the NHL and I can come back and jump right back in and feel like I am in good game shape.”
Raymond’s new team is finding him accommodation in Orebro, a city of just over 100,000 located about two hours west of Stockholm.
“I think it’s about the size of Red Deer so there should be a nice, small-town mentality,” Raymond said. “Everything is taken care of, they said just bring your clothes and whatever essentials you need and come over and have some fun and play some hockey.”
Raymond’s agent J.P. Barry said his client’s deal runs through the month of January, with an option to renew.
Barry said the 14-team Swedish first division, or Allsvenskan, has become a popular landing spot for locked-out NHLers as the Swedish Elite League has refused to sign NHL players unless they commit to playing an entire season.
Raymond’s first game for eighth-placed Orebro on Jan. 3 is against Mora, which features Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings and Bobby Ryan of the Anaheim Ducks.
“He and I talked quite a bit and I said I think now is probably right about the time and he agreed,” Barry said of Raymond. “He’s itching to play and you want that and we just felt that Sweden was a good fit for him.”
Raymond is just the fourth Canuck regular to sign in Europe. Goalie Cory Schneider is playing for Ambri-Piotta in the Swiss League, Jannik Hansen is skating with Tappara Tampere in the Finnish Elite League and Dale Weise is playing for Tilburg in the Netherlands. Top Canuck prospect Nicklas Jensen is playing for AIK in the Swedish Elite League.
Barry said he expects the Sedins, who are also his clients, to head to Sweden quickly if the NHL cancels its season in mid-January.
“Yeah, I think if the season was cancelled they’d definitely want to play for a while so I think they’d probably leave as soon as that happened,” Barry said.
If they do go, the Sedins will play for their hometown team, MoDo, where former Canuck captain Markus Naslund is the general manager.