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Mason caps eye-opening first year with Calder

by Shawn P. Roarke
LAS VEGAS -- In the eyes of many, Columbus goalie Steve Mason may have officially arrived as a NHL star when he was awarded the Calder Trophy during Thursday night's NHL Awards Show at the Pearl Concert Theater.

But for the 21-year-old goalie, his arrival came much earlier. In fact, Mason can pinpoint the exact day: Dec. 17, 2008.

"For myself, personally, it was a game against San Jose when we beat them 2-1 in OT and I had 48 saves or something like that," Mason told "At the time -- they obviously finished No. 1 in the League -- they were a powerhouse and we were the underdogs, and it was just a great memory for myself."

Mason was an underdog to be in this position as the League's best rookie, beating out Anaheim's Bobby Ryan and Chicago's Kris Versteeg. He had 1,268 votes, 439 more than Ryan, the runner-up.

Mason began the year in the minors, playing for Syracuse in the American Hockey League. But injuries -- especially to then-franchise goalie Pascal Leclaire -- forced Mason to be called up far earlier than planned, and he responded far better than anyone had a right to expect.

How good was Mason? Good enough that the 26-year-old Leclaire, the Jackets' first pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, was moved to Ottawa at the trade deadline as a chip GM Scott Howson used to shore up the Blue Jackets for the first postseason run in franchise history.

Mason finished the season with a 33-20-7 record and a 2.29 goals-against average, the second-best mark in the League. He also had a League-best 10 shutouts.

He is the first Columbus Blue Jacket to be voted to a major end-of-season award in franchise history. Forward Rick Nash won the Maurice Richard Trophy as the League's most-prolific goal scorer in 2004.

But Mason says all the success he had this season can be traced back to that Dec. 17 game, just the 15th start of his career.

"Obviously there were a lot of key moments along the way in the season, but that is the one that stuck out the most -- to shut down a team that had as much firepower as the Sharks did," Mason told "That was something I was extremely proud of and gave me a lot of confidence moving forward."

Mason is the first goalie to win the Rookie of the Year award since Boston's Andrew Raycroft in 2004. He was also up for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the League's best goaltender, but finished a distant second to Boston's Tim Thomas.

Still Mason didn't go home empty-handed. He already has plans for the trophy.

"It's going back to my parents' house in Oakville (Ontario)," he said. "That's where all my memorabilia is."

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