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Unmasked: Backup role readied Mason for new career

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com

Chris Mason may be new to broadcasting, but the recently retired NHL goaltender-turned-radio analyst got a chance to prepare for his second career while playing out his first.

During his two stints with the Nashville Predators, it was common for the backup goalie to put on a headset during a break in the action and take questions from the broadcast crew. Now, after calling it a career this past summer following two seasons in Europe and trading in his pads for a headset, all those interviews from the bench are paying off for Mason as a Predators analyst.

"I played behind Tomas Vokoun in his heyday, so there was a lot of games where I was on the bench for those interviews," Mason, who played 317 NHL games over 13 seasons with the Predators, St. Louis Blues, Atlanta Thrashers and Winnipeg Jets, said with a laugh. "I looked forward to doing it actually. I love talking about hockey. I love watching hockey. I love playing hockey. It's a passion of mine, so to be able to have that small sample of experience, it did help and it does make a difference feeling comfortable being on air and talking about hockey and not making a fool of yourself. I probably still did, but it makes you not so scared to make a fool of yourself."

Mason spent nine of his 13 NHL seasons in Nashville, bookending two stints with the Predators around stops in St. Louis, Atlanta and Winnipeg. Originally from Red Deer, Alberta, he also spent three seasons overseas, winning a championship in Norway during the 2004-05 NHL work stoppage and winding down his career with stops in Italy and Germany.

Mason's plan was always to settle back in Nashville, where his oldest daughter, Avery, was born, after his playing career ended. So when the opportunity to work as a Predators analyst came up, the 39-year-old jumped at the chance. He's easing into his broadcast career, doing about 25 road games of color commentary as part of the radio play-by-play team, and some pregame and intermission work as a studio analyst on the television side.

Mason joins a long list of former NHL goaltenders now working as analysts, and doesn't think it's a coincidence the position lends itself well to working in the media.

It's an impressive list that includes Darren Pang, Kelly Hrudey, Kevin Weekes, Jamie McLennan, Greg Millen and Martin Biron at the national level, and a seemingly endless flow of their peers in the regional ranks, a mix of old school and recently retired that includes everyone from John Garrett and Corey Hirsch to Jose Theodore and Steve Valiquette.

Not all had the benefit of being interviewed from the bench as a backup, but they share the experiences of playing goal in the NHL, a job that involves a lot more than stopping pucks.

"As a goalie you have an understanding of almost every aspect of the game," Mason said. "You are learning offensive plays and tendencies, you build relationships with your defensemen, you have to understand everybody's position on the ice, and you just have to know everything about the game. You are on the ice the entire game and in every meeting. You are in the power-play meeting, the penalty-kill meeting, the systems meetings. You're involved in every aspect, and most of the goalies I've met are real students of the game and love talking about hockey."

It doesn't hurt to have a good personality. While the cliché of putting the quirky oddball in goal may have passed, there remains a level of artistry in a position that is being broken down scientifically more than ever.

Mason's personality used to shine through on his masks and equipment, with tributes to his family on the back of his mask and an Iron Maiden Eddie almost always worked stylishly into his designs by longtime personal artist Steve Nash of EyeCandyAir. Mason was also a trendsetter with equipment, incorporating team logos into his Brian's pads and gloves in Winnipeg and Nashville, a fashion statement goalies like Eddie Lack continue with today.

Chris Mason

Chris Mason would use his masks and equipment to
display his personality during his playing career.
Photo: Getty Images  (Click to enlarge)

The challenge for Mason now is bringing out that personality on air without forcing things.

"The best advice I've gotten is to just be yourself," he said. "You can watch and listen and take things from other people, but the thing that translates best with fans is using your own personality instead of trying to be a copycat or something you are not."

For Mason, that means being able to fairly critique former teammates.

"I've always been honest about my performance and everyone else's," Mason said, "I think I am able to say it in a way that is not calling somebody out or making a negative comment, but at the same time just being honest about what is going on because people respect honesty. You don't have to be vicious or overstated with your opinions. That's fine, but that's not my style."

The challenge for Mason is timing. Like a backup goalie who hasn't played for a while, there is a rhythm to broadcasting he is working hard to perfect. He has gotten over traveling to the rink and not ending up on the ice, something he admits left him missing the game early on.

A couple months later, Mason is in no rush to strap the gear back on.

"Any goalie you ask probably doesn't want to put the pads on every again and I am the same," Mason said with a laugh. "So I would prefer my next hockey playing days are as a stay-at-home defenseman or a cherry-picking forward."

Unless, of course, the Predators are in need of an emergency backup on short notice.

"I've been told I am first on the list," Mason said.

Just one more reason former goalies make good analysts.

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