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Martin Raymond, the head coach of the McGill Redmen hockey team, doesn't want to be profiled in the McGill Reporter — or anywhere else for that matter. He makes this abundantly clear when, contacted by email to set up a possible interview, he responds "I am assuming you want to talk about the players and the team."
And he's got a point. This year's Redmen are a writer's dream, a team filled with All-Stars and Academic All-Canadians and All-World goaltender Mathieu Poitras. Having just completed their most successful campaign ever, the Redmen posted a gaudy 20-1-3 regular season record and ran away with the Ontario University Athletics crown. To top it off, the squad qualified for the national championships for the first time in its 129-year history, reaching the Final Four before being eliminated by the University of Alberta, the eventual champs. Pick a storyline, any storyline.
The problem is, Raymond's a pretty good tale in his own right. A former All-Canadian captain of the Redmen, the native of Pierrefonds has parlayed his talents as a player (the third leading scorer in McGill history, he represented Canada internationally and played pro hockey in Germany) into an exceptional coaching career. In his eleventh season at the helm of the Redmen, Raymond notched his 200th career victory this season — making him the winningest hockey coach in the school's history.
Some observers suggest that, in a career marked by excellence, Raymond surpassed himself this past season, taking an inexperienced defensive corps (five freshmen and two sophomores) and a goaltending duo comprised of a rookie and a sophomore, and moulding a cohesive unit that set Canadian university records for most shutouts (12) and lowest goals-against average (1.21). It was a performance that made experts sit up and take notice — Raymond was named Canadian Interuniversity Sport Coach of the Year in March.
Of course, trying to get Raymond to talk about his own achievements is like trying to get an even-strength goal on his Redmen —a very difficult task indeed. "One-man shows don't survive," he says when asked what is his greatest asset as a coach. "I like working with lots of people and people who understand that everyone's role is the same — to serve the team."
For most people, the concept of "team" is restricted to players and coaches, but not for Raymond. He lists profs who act as advisors and former players and alumni who serve as mentors to help ease the transition of players new to McGill. "A lot of these kids are francophones who have been out of school for a few years playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Being secure in the knowledge that they have a support group that can help them in a time of need really strengthens the bond within the team."
A war history buff, the self-effacing Raymond likens these supporters to those who work behind the scenes coordinating major military operations. "The teamwork required to organize all those soldiers, all that equipment, is impressive," he says. "The allies behind this hockey team are so outstanding, they are our biggest strength — more so than whatever I bring to the program personally."
In the end, Raymond can hardly believe that he is earning his living in the sport he has loved since childhood — especially since it means working with such talented student athletes. "People ask me if I'm interested in coaching pro or major junior, but I don't think I'd have the same satisfaction," he shrugs. "These kids are so dedicated and have such great characters. It's a privilege working with them."