Columbus goalie Steve Mason still has more than 20 stitches in his left hand after a skate cut him all the way to the bone just below the outside of his pinky finger on the blocker side in Los Angeles four games ago.
It won’t keep him out against the Canucks on Saturday night, though.
Mason is eager to get back between the pipes to continue a recent run that’s as good as he’s had in the past three years. So after testing the hand in practice the last two days – and despite having to leave one briefly Friday to have the bandage over the stiches redone – Mason will play in Vancouver.
“There’s no pain right now,” he said after Saturday’s morning skate.
Mason was talking about the hand, but he could have been talking about the rest of his body too. Because if there’s been one key to Mason’s recent turnaround – he is 7-3-1 with a .922 save percentage in the last 10 after going 1-7-1 with a .880 save percentage the previous 10 – it’s a change in his equipment.
After wearing smaller pants and chest/arm protection his first three-and-a-half seasons in the League, Mason got permission from Kay Whitmore and the NHL to don bigger gear more suitable to his 6-foot-4, 217-pound frame. The difference was immediate. Not only did he feel and look bigger, but more importantly he was no longer feeling every shot off his upper body, which he said had actually – and shockingly – left him flinching and turning away from the puck at times.
“It makes a huge difference. If you are getting hit by pucks and it’s hurting, it's human nature to kind of turn away from it and not really square up as much as you can,” Mason said. “You'd almost try and turn to cushion it. That’s not the way to play the game and with the new stuff it's given me the peace of mind to face the shot square on and that’s the way the position is supposed to be played.”
Mason said the models haven’t changed, just the size, and the bigger pants allow him to still tuck in a larger chest protector without pulling it tight to his torso. The air between the gear and his body helps cushion the blow, whereas before it was like a bulletproof vest – it may save your life, but you’re going to feel it. Mason said he often finished practices with bruises all over his ribs and even shoulders.
“You should have seen me some days, my entire rib cage would be black and blue,” Mason said. “For sure it affects your confidence. A lot of times on pucks up (at the shoulder) I would turn away because it hurt and human nature. Now I just face it square on, and if it hits you so be it, the padding will take the force.”
Turning away from shots not only made Mason appear smaller in the net but it also often left him more exposed if the puck was tipped on the way in. Now not only does he looks bigger because he’s staying square, but he feels bigger too, something he noticed right away with the new gear back on Feb. 11.
“My first game in the new gear there was a play where I was down and moving to my right and my arm was out a bit and I was still able to get a piece of the puck, where before I knew for sure that was going in the net,” he said. “But it got a bit of my arm, dropped down in front of my pad and was an easy cover up.”
Mason had won four straight before the skate cut, his longest run in more than a calendar year, and he credits the new equipment for playing a big role.
“It gives you more confidence out there,” he said. “It just seems you look bigger, gives the guys less to look at when they are coming down the wing and any time you can have a competitive advantage like that it definitely helps.”
Especially when it also means you no longer have to flinch.