|Goaltender Chris Mason, originally drafted by the New Jersey Devils in 1995, made his NHL debut for Nashville in 1998, and is finally the full-time starter.
After backstopping Prince George in the Western Hockey League in the mid-1990s, Chris Mason
was a late-round pick by the New Jersey Devils
(fifth round, No. 122 overall) in 1995. He then bounced around organizations, from Anaheim in 1997 to Nashville in 1998 to Florida in 2002 and back to Nashville in 2003, all the while riding buses in the minors.
Mason finally broke through as Vokoun's backup in 2003-04, going 4-4-1 in 17 games, with a 2.18 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.
His biggest thrill so far in hockey?
"It was my first NHL game," Mason said of a Dec. 16, 1998 game at Anaheim. "You never forget your first game and, for me, this was doubly important because, even though the Predators were already down 6-0 when I came in, I stopped all eight shots I faced. Plus it was my younger brother John's birthday. So it was pretty memorable."
Mason is one of those hard-to-believe stories. He was a defenseman and forward until he was 11. His parents, Paul, and Bonnie, never played major competitive sports and weren't always sure of their son's wish to pursue a career in hockey. And when he came to them when he was 11 and said he wanted to go to Penticton, British Columbia, to attend Andy Moog's goaltending school, well, they said OK, but ...
"I knew they weren't thrilled," he remembered. "But when you're a kid and you know the odds of making it as a professional hockey player are slim, it was important because they let me have my dream."
Mason admits that even though he liked Moog, when Andy played for the Edmonton Oilers, he really was a Calgary Flames fan. But telling his dad about Moog's school was an easy sell living in Alberta, where the Oilers were so popular.
"I remember wondering if my decision was right in the first year after I became a goaltender and was playing in atom hockey (for 12- and 13-year-olds) and one night I gave up 20 goals and was crying under my mask," he said, not too embarrassed to admit it now. "My parents were in the crowd. They knew I was crying. But they were behind me all the way and told me so after that game."
The memories were better, but still not up to his dreams until he arrived in Nashville for good -- after being waived by Florida, and after seeing the Devils and Ducks lose interest in him earlier in his career.
"That move was the best thing that could have happened to me," Mason said. "Until I got to Nashville, I had never really had a full-time goalie coach. My style was rough. My results were, well, OK ... but working with Mitch Korn has helped my positioning. He's gotten me out of the habit of trying to do too much at one time and over-committing or committing too soon to try to make a save. He's made me more patient and really worked on using the power stride to help me go from side to side more quickly and effectively. Without his help, I wouldn't have the confidence that ... now that I have this opportunity ... I know I can do the job."
This down-to-earth goaltender loves movies and video games. But his favorite off-ice activity is fantasy sports games, picking teams and managing them against other fans. Truth is, he recommended his best friend pick him up when he got the chance to be No. 1 going into the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Mason smiled and said, "I called him and told him that I was going to be No. 1 for the Predators ... and if he wanted a good, safe acquisition, he'd pick me up for his team."
How about this time, Chris?
"My buddy was going to pick me, but he waited too long," Mason laughed. "Going a little higher in the fantasy draft ... that’s always a cool thing."