Abigail “Abi” Raye is a favorite English, no Canadian, wait…Belgian player. Confusing yet correct, Raye was originally born in England, but moved to Canada in 2005 with her parents and played for multiple clubs, university, and made the national team at the age of 17. Following a relationship over to Belgium, she knew it was her chance to find top leagues and programs. Now on the Belgian national team, the Bel Red Panthers, Raye’s journey was an unusual one. She sat down with the Uru team to share about what it was like finding her way to the national team.
Playing in Belgium
Raye’s playing resume is deep, and in Belgium alone, she’s played for top tier programs like Wellington, Gantoise, and now the KHC Dragons in addition to the national team. She mentioned that the Dragons: “are quite a historic club in Belgium. I think the men’s team has been more focused on, they’ve won like 12 championships, but I think now it’s becoming more equal and the women’s team is getting much better. And like I said, the club is pretty historic, so it’s a really beautiful clubhouse. I personally love the coach there, it’s awesome and really relaxed, and it’s a really team feel as well. It’s my second year playing as well, and I’m super happy.”
Through all of her teams and experiences around the world, one of our main questions for Raye was how she first learned about all of her teams and found her way to success. Her take:
“I literally have no idea how I did it. I literally showed up, not knowing anything…
I first came to Belgium because my boyfriend was coming over, and because there weren’t many Canadians playing in Belgium at the time. So my boyfriend was coming to play at Royal Racing Club, and luckily, the wife of the men’s coach was coaching at Wellington. So luckily, I was able to get into Wellington. But even then, I’d say it was a difficult process because they didn’t know me, they didn’t know much about Canadian hockey, even though I’d been on the Canadian team for 6 years or so. And they really weren’t sure about it. But I managed to get myself over there.
And just from being in the Belgium league, I was then recruited by Gantoise. That was how I moved. Just because they were playing at a high level, I saw it as an opportunity for myself. And during that time, I managed to get myself an internship at Osaka, which is a hockey brand with offices in Antwerp. So, I started as an intern there and eventually got myself a full-time job. But that’s obviously in Antwerp, so driving from Ghent to Antwerp everyday for work was getting to be too much for me.
And actually my colleague at Osaka played for the Dragons and I knew of the team, so she said ‘hey, why don’t you have a meeting with our coach about coming to play for us.’ In the end, I decided I love Gantoise and I love playing there, but the driving was bad, and I wanted to continue to work, so the best thing was to go to Dragons and play and work in Antwerp, so that’s how I kinda ended up there. And that also turned out great, so I’m pretty lucky about that.”
Through it all, Raye has been able to make the most of her experiences, asking for extra training from coaches and focusing on her fitness, while also working at Osaka to continue her professional growth.
“Every opportunity I’ve been given, even playing at Wellington, I’ve always trained super hard, always wanting to get better and get to that next level. And I think things have kind of fallen into place, opportunities have come, and I’ve made the most of them and now I’m actually living in Belgium and playing on the national team. If you told me that six years ago, I would have never believed you but, here I am. And I’m loving it, which is also pretty cool.”
It’s evident that Raye’s skill, hard work ethic, and motivation drove her to earn each opportunity that came her way. However, it was also a combination of word of mouth and personal connections that helped her learn of new opportunities. With Uru, we aim to provide those connections and knowledge, all through your smartphone. For Raye, she also sees Uru as being useful at the collegiate and pro levels:
“In university, there are some young girls that want to go play in the US, and I know a little bit about it because I encountered it, and it’s also a big trend. But some girls ask me, and I can only give a bit of what I’ve heard via the grapevine, but I think something like that where girls can see ‘ok at this school it’s like this’ and you can see the experience. I see it being super useful already for sure.
And coming over to Belgium, I had no idea where Wellington was in the league, like is it the top team? What’s the history? Is it a club that usually brings in a lot of foreigners every year? Is it a club that has a group that stays together for a while? It’s just those inside scoops that you wouldn’t necessarily know [on your own] coming from abroad.”
Featured photo by Koen Suyk