When 21-year-old Damon Raven stepped on the airplane Monday evening heading for Sweden, it was the first time in his life he had experienced being airborne. It was the first time he was heading to Europe and also first time he would be playing hockey for a team outside of the Columbia Valley.
Growing up in Invermere, Raven first dipped his feet in the sport of hockey when his father built a backyard rink, before officially joining organized hockey in the Windermere Minor Hockey Association when he was 8 years old.
A late start for many, it wasn’t until he was in Bantam, when he started to become a leader on his teams, that he said he started to take the sport seriously.
One of the options which he had known about — from watching throughout his childhood — was becoming a member of the Columbia Valley Rockies Junior B team. At 15 years old, Raven made his first appearance at Rockies training camp and was surprised how well he performed given his age and size comparison to the other more experienced players in camp.
After playing his first year of midget hockey in the Windermere Valley Minor Hockey Association, Raven took his first step towards a future in hockey making the Rockies, playing as a forward. For him, this was a big step.
“I was pretty nervous for the first month or so but then I got into it,” he said. “Because you’re going there and there’s 20 year olds with full beards and I feel like this little kid who’s only 150 pounds. It was pretty nerve wracking for sure.”
At just 16 years old, Raven was successful in his rookie campaign, recording five goals and 15 points in 39 games played. Each year Raven would build on his prior success as a member of the Rockies, recording 11 points in his final season. After five seasons in a Rockies’ uniform, Raven holds the record for the most games played by anyone wearing the blue and orange.
“It was pretty good because I have a lot of family that’s either tried out or played for the Rockies. I know a lot of people that have locally played for the Rockies, so to have the record means a lot,” he said. “Especially because when I was younger, I didn’t even think I would make the Rockies until I was 18.”
While he said he spent time looking for a place to play on a college team in Canada or the United States, the option of travelling to Europe to continue his hockey career was not one he could pass up.
He and fellow Rockie Ryan Lawson had considered entering Germany’s amateur hockey league, but were swayed to join their friend Doan Smith who played the last season for Nynashamns IF, which is part of the Swedish Hockey League. Smith will be returning to Sweden this season after splitting time between there and the Rockies last season.
One of the biggest changes awaiting him, Raven said, is that he’s going to have to get used to the much larger Olympic sized ice that European hockey is played on in comparison to North American hockey, such as in the KIJHL.
“I’m pretty quick so maybe it’ll work to that advantage but the cardio, I don’t know, because I just don’t know what to expect,” he said. “When you go over there it looks like you have more time and you can relax a bit more on the ice and be yourself.”
Travelling to Europe for the first time and now living there, Raven will have to adjust to a cadre of changes, most notably the culture and time zone. One commonality will remain though in his love for the game he grew up playing.