NEWARK, New Jersey - It's been a long and trying season for Winnipeg Jets goalie Steve Mason.
Mason, who signed a two-year, $8.2M contract with the Jets back on Jul. 1, just hasn't been able to find any traction in his first year with the club.
After going winless and allowing 18 goals in his first four starts, the 29-year-old found his game and won his next two, stopping 69 of 71 shots before being sidetracked once again.
This time, due to injury.
But finally, after what seemed like forever, Mason was back in his usual stall at Jets practice, fielding questions about his excitement, not despair, for the first time in a while.
Video: PRACTICE | Steve Mason
He's ready go and be a contributor again to the Jets' drive to the playoffs.
"I'm really excited. I'm looking forward to getting back into some real game action here," the goalie said, all smiles after joining the team for Monday's workout at the Devils' practice rink in Newark, New Jersey. "It's an extremely important stretch of games for us and basically every team that's in the playoff picture here. These are important games and I'm looking forward to being a part of it."
Mason was loaned to the Manitoba Moose on a conditioning assignment over the weekend. He made one start, stopping 18 of 22 shots in a 5-4 overtime win over the Iowa Wild.
Michael Hutchinson, meanwhile, remained with the Jets and backed up Connor Hellebuyck's wining effort in Carolina, but returned to the Moose late Monday when Mason, who met the team in New York, was activated off injured reserve.
"It was a tough game to get into," Mason said of this first AHL start since the 2008-09 season. "I wasn't overly busy and after being off for such a long stretch, it took me a while to get going. As the game went on I started to get more comfortable and at the end of the day, it was good to get back in some game action."
No kidding. After all, he's never had a season like this.
Video: WPG@STL: Mason dives to stuff Steen's wraparound try
Mason suffered a concussion after taking a shot off the mask in a loss to the San Jose Sharks on Nov. 25. He returned a few weeks later and appeared in three games around the holidays, but was back on the IR early in the new year when a shot during practice went astray and struck him up high.
This one kept him out for almost two full months. Another 21 games, gone.
Forgetting the lockout year, in his nine as an NHL starter, Mason has played an average of 55 games per season. With only 11 to his name in his first year with the Jet, he's determined to make amends at the most important time of year.
"It's been just an overall long year," he lamented last week. "Being out of the lineup so much, it's not fun. But that's the way the cards have fallen this year. You deal with that, and I'm just excited to finally be almost getting into game action here."
Video: PRACTICE | Paul Maurice
Mason has been back practicing with the Jets for the past 10 days, donning a new mask with "a better shell, better construction, and better padding." With fellow goaltender Michael Hutchinson also suffering a concussion during practice this year, he wasn't taking any chances.
Now, and after overcoming the obvious mental hurdle of facing 95mph shots again, Mason is officially ready to go. He was activated off injured reserve on Monday and could play as soon as Tuesday when the Jets continue their season-long six-game road trip against the New York Rangers.
Head Coach Paul Maurice would not confirm when Mason will play, but did say he will see the net at some point on the trip and that the plan will become public soon enough.
- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com