Chris Mason

When most teams lose their starting goaltender for four to six weeks, there is usually a great deal of concern about a significant drop-off in production.

Most teams don’t have Chris Mason.

When a thumb injury in the second period of the Nashville Predators’ 6-0 win over Vancouver on Nov. 23 put starting goalie Tomas Vokoun on the shelf, the 30-year-old Mason stepped right in to shoulder the load.

And unlike most teams, the Predators aren’t expecting to lose anything due to the switch. The injury couldn’t have come at a more critical time for the Predators, who were just about to enter one of the most challenging stretches of the season.

However, after Mason’s performance at the end of last season and into the playoffs, there was no doubt that Mason replacing Vokoun was a case of the No. 1A goalie replacing the No. 1 goalie.

Arguably, Mason is having an even better season then a year ago, when he stepped in and had a 12-5 record and a .913 save percentage.

"I felt good at the end of last year, and I feel good this year," Mason said. "Our guys are playing well too. They’ve been scoring a lot of goals.

I think last year getting the experience at the end of last year helped me to be ready for a situation like this."

Predators head coach Barry Trotz says the key to Mason’s development has been his preparation.

"Chris always will be good, because he takes every day as an opportunity to get better," Trotz said. "He works extremely hard at his craft. And he understands in this business if you’re unprepared, you’re not gonna be successful, and he doesn’t want that to happen."

Another aspect that has no doubt helped is that the fans have unequivocally embraced Mason when he is in net.

"Fans know," Predators goalie coach Mitch Korn said. "They may not know the technical part of the game, but they know work, they know determination, they know battle. And he does that."

Korn is also quick to point out that it wasn’t long ago that Vokoun the backup took advantage of an injury to become Vokoun the starter.

"In both situations the perception of underdog is a pretty neat thing for fans," Korn said.  "And they rally around those kinds of things. And they rallied it around Tomas years ago, and they’re rallying around Chris now."

Mason’s reputation in the clubhouse has also helped with his success.
"He’s such a great team guy," Trotz said. "He’s got a great perspective and he’s very grounded in his personal life, and he never takes anything for granted."

Korn also said that Mason’s career was built on not taking anything for granted.

"Chris Mason is a self-made man," Korn said. "He wasn’t blessed with being six-foot four with big arms and big legs. He wasn’t blessed with phenomenal speed and talent. He is a self-made guy. And that has to be as gratifying as anything certainly to him."

Korn also said that Mason is an excellent representative of what the Nashville Predators are all about.

"This team has been built on work, on doing the right thing, on earning, on character," Korn said. "And he possesses all of it. And you want him in your room. Period."

Mason certainly has proven he has the talent to be a No. 1 goaltender.

But more importantly than that, he has the drive to be a No. 1 goaltender.

"People say ‘Yeah, Chris Mason is a solid backup’ and this and that," Mason said. "I want to be a starting goalie in this league, and I want to be recognized at one point as a top goaltender in the league, and you don’t get that without playing those kinds of minutes in those games."

Make no mistake about it, though. Mason is completely focused on the Nashville Predators, and winning this year.

What is telling is that Mason had an opportunity to explore the free agent market in the off-season, and chose instead to sign a two-year $2.5 million deal to remain in Nashville.

"You have to be comfortable where you are," Korn said. "I think that goes to attitude and the environment here has given him a chance to develop and to do his thing. I think he felt very comfortable knowing that that would continue. And there are guys who have left places for maybe more money or more opportunity and may regret it in the long run."

Korn also said that Vokoun’s unknown health situation at the time definitely contributed to Mason’s re-signing, which Mason seconded.
"I wanted initially to go and try and play somewhere where I knew where I was gonna play more, but the other factor was at the time, Tomas wasn’t signed long term," Mason said. "So I was taking a chance that I didn’t know if he would or what was gonna happen there, so that could have been a good situation for me if he didn’t, but they got him done, and I’m happy to be here right now."

For his part, Vokoun was excited to see that his friend and teammate was going to be around for two more seasons.

"I’ve been playing with him since this franchise started, and I was really happy," Vokoun said.

When Vokoun comes back, the Predators will also have the luxury of having two goaltenders that have played significant minutes for stretches during the season, something Trotz said can only be beneficial.

"When we get to that point, we’ll be in a real good situation with both goaltenders having seen a lot of pucks this year, and hopefully we’ll be able to keep them both fresh."

Mason, for his part, also believes having both goaltenders with significant work during the season is a positive thing.

"Everybody is starting to realize that you need two guys now, because if something happens to your big dog and you don’t have anything to back up, it’s a tough go, especially if you believe your team has a chance to win the Stanley Cup," Mason said. "It’s a long season, especially the way the game’s played now. It’s so much more taxing than it was before on guy’s bodies and everything."

The Predators are certainly hoping that come April, they will again be in the playoffs, but this year, they’re striving for something more.

"It just seems like every year, we’re kinda moving up the ladder," Mason said. "First we were happy to make the playoffs, then we did better in the standings, and I think now we really want to win the division, and I think that’s definitely a realistic goal. And after that, we want to make some noise in the playoffs."

"Think about this: it’s nine years ago that we met Chris Mason as a 21-year-old child," Korn said. "No wife, no kid, no house, no nothing. He was in the American League. And in nine years, just to watch the maturity, the growth, the hair loss, all those things occur, is very gratifying personally for me, has to be for him, and certainly is for the organization, and certainly goes to show that patience is very important."

Perhaps it’s fitting that as of Dec. 5, both Mason and Vokoun have identical .920 save percentages.

After all, it won’t be a question of if Mason will get a chance to be the No. 1 goaltender for a franchise, but when.

And when that happens, rest assured Mason will succeed.

 

 
 
 
 
 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

www.Centericemagazine.com

Copyright © 2006 All Rights Reserved