|Chris Mason was given his first chance to be an NHL goaltender as a member of the Nashville Predators. |
As a boy growing up in Western Canada, Chris Mason always hoped his path would one day lead him to the NHL.
“It’s the sport every kid wants to play,” he said. “It’s sort of our culture.”
But the road leading to a hockey career is littered with speed bumps and road blocks.
For Paul and Bonnie Mason, it wasn’t easy living in Red Deer, Alberta. Life was tough financially and getting their son involved in youth hockey wasn’t cheap. Goalie equipment typically comes with a big price tag.
“The (financial) burden you put on your parents, especially when you’re a goalie…” Mason said, recalling the days of his youth when his mom and dad drove him to the rink at 6 a.m. each morning. “They were always there for me every step of the way and always with a smile on their face.”
As he began to grow up, he shrugged off the idea that he couldn’t play in the NHL.
You’re not good enough. It’s virtually impossible. The odds are one in a million.
Mason heard all of these things.
“The only thing that gets you through it is your belief system in yourself,” he said. “If you let other people dictate how you feel, then you’re done. I always thought if I kept going, one day I’d be lucky enough to be here.
“And here I am.”
The 6-foot, 195-pound netminder wasn’t exactly a prized prospect, so he bounced around from New Jersey, to Anaheim, to Nashville and to Florida before eventually ending up back in Nashville, where he was given his first shot as a backup to then-No. 1 goaltender Tomas Vokoun.
Mason played sparingly for the Predators until a blood disorder sidelined Vokoun. Opportunity knocked and Mason answered, starting in 21 consecutive games while posting an impressive 24-11-4 record on the season.
"He's been working hard his whole career, just not being able to get that chance," said Predators defenseman Shea Weber, who was Mason's roommate on the road. "Finally, he got a chance and did a great job for us and proved he could be a No. 1 goalie."
|Mason was traded to the Blues on the night before the 2008 NHL Entry Draft and will help Manny Legace more rest this season (Getty Images). |
Showing their confidence in Mason, the Predators traded Vokoun to Florida after the 2006-07 season, making Mason the undisputed starter in Nashville.
But last season didn’t go as well as he’d planned, and eventually, rookie Dan Ellis took over as the starting goaltender for the Predators. When Ellis signed a new contract, Mason saw the writing on the wall that his time in Nashville was over.
"It was a tough year for him, but he's such a competitive guy. You know he's going to bring it," Weber said. "Every night he brought his game and he played as hard as he could. I'm sure he's going to have a great year and prove again that he's one of the top goalies."
The night before the 2008 NHL Draft, Predators General Manager David Poile called to deliver news that Mason had been traded to St. Louis for a fourth round draft pick in the next day’s draft.
“When I found out I was coming here, I honestly don’t think I could have picked a better team to come to,” Mason said. “This team is definitely on its way up and I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”
With a team that already has an all-star goalie in Manny Legace, playing time might not come as often as it did last year in Nashville, but Mason said he’s not setting goals for himself in terms of minutes or games played. He considers his season a success if he can help the club to two points in the standings when Legace needs a night off.
“When I’m called upon to play, I want to be ready to help the team whenever they need a big effort from me,” he said. “Having Manny here, he’s a great guy to learn from and he had a tough road to get where he is, too. I have a lot of respect for him and the other guys on this team.”
Early season predictions haven’t favored the Blues, but Mason said that the team has more talent than the media is giving them credit for.
“I think the sky’s the limit,” he said. “There’s not one guy in here that thinks we’re going to be remotely close to the bottom of the league. We want to make the playoffs, and there’s no reason we can’t with the people we’ve got here.
“Hopefully we can do something special.”