Washington Capitals forward prospect Damien Riat is itching to begin his pro hockey career in North America. When he signed his entry-level deal with the Capitals back on March 5th of this year, the plan was fairly simple. Participate in Capitals development in June and prepare to play in North America in the fall. Obviously things drastically changed just a week later when the hockey world was halted on March 12 due to COVID-19.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t completely thwarted Riat’s development since March. He and 21 other Swiss players participated in a week-long training camp at OYM Science in Cham, Switzerland at the end of July. The goal of the camp was to allow the best players between the ages of 20 and 25 to compete without pressure and facilitate their passage to the Swiss national team.
A week later the Washington Capitals announced that they had loaned Riat to the Geneve-Servette Hockey Club of the Swiss National League to begin the 2020-21 hockey season. It is expected that the Capitals will recall Riat to North America when the organization’s 2020-21 training camps open, which is now scheduled for mid-December.
“I feel good,” said the 23-year-old attacker. “These are crazy times at the moment, not only in ice hockey, but also for everyone else. But despite the corona pandemic, we have to look ahead.”
Riat is making the best of the situation with Geneve-Servette. Not only is he playing with former Capitals Eric Fehr and Daniel Winnik, but he’s also playing with his brother Arnaud, who is a winger on the team.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to prepare for the start of the NHL here in Geneva, whenever that is,” he said. “At the moment I’m fully focused on the season with Geneva and I’m doing my best here. When the time comes to go to Washington, I’ll be ready for that too.”
Riat is appreciating having fans in the stands, but knows that too may be changing, as the pandemic begins to surge once again.
“It helps a lot when the fans are there. The game gets a completely different dynamic when you are cheered on. It’s boring without the people in the stands. The whole thing then has more of a training character,” said Riat.
“Unfortunately, the situation has recently deteriorated again. We will therefore have to wait and see what happens in the next few days. It may well be that fewer spectators will be admitted to the arenas in the future.”
Riat is mentally prepared for his eventual trip to Washington, but is expecting his biggest challenge on the ice to date.
“It will certainly not be easy for me in Washington. But I will do everything I can to take the chance this time and make the leap onto the team. My goal is to play in the NHL as soon as possible. I work on that every day,” he said. “I want to be successful and win championships. I feel like all players. I am of course aware that this requires a lot of hard work,” he said.
By Jon Sorensen