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Great Goaltending Celebrated in Nashville

by Allison Quillen / Nashville Predators
Rinne and Ellis follow in the paths of Vokoun and Mason

Since the Predators began play in 1998, Nashville has had a history of great goaltending beginnings, starting with netminders Tomas Vokoun and Chris Mason, both of which had their
Tomas Vokoun
professional NHL careers start in Nashville. Although both of these goaltenders have gone on to flourish with other NHL teams, both were given opportunities and challenges in Nashville that would later influence their futures elsewhere. With players of their magnitude starting their careers in Nashville, the franchise has proven itself to be a great starting ground for future goaltending greats.

Vokoun is one of Nashville’s most beloved goaltenders because of his unique style and humble roots. He was drafted into the NHL by the Montreal Canadiens, but exposed by the Habs and selected by the Predators in the 1998 Expansion Draft. In his debut season of 1998-99, he manned the net 37 times. By 2000, the Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic native was chosen to backup Mike Dunham, but when Dunham was traded in 2002, and Vokoun was handed the starting spot. Head Coach Barry Trotz fondly remembers the days of Vokoun.

Mike Dunham
“When we moved Mike Dunham for a couple of other players, Tomas became our number one because of his work ethic and his character,” Trotz said. “He has never made any excuses and he wanted to be the starting guy. He grew as a goaltender and his confidence grew as a person when he became number one.”

These ever-improving goaltending skills earned him starts in more than 140 games over the next two seasons (2002-03 and 2003-04), posting a .914 save percentage. It was during this time that a lifetime back-up goalie named Chris Mason entered the Predators scene.

The 2003-04 season was a big one for Vokoun, not only was he chosen to represent the Western Conference at the All-Star Game, but he led the Preds to their first-ever Stanley Cup Playoffs berth that April. Although Vokoun battled injuries from that point to the end of his Predator career following the 2006-07 season, he will forever go down in Preds history as a fan-favorite. For many, “Song No. 2” by Blur will forever be associated with the “VOO-KOOON!” chant that resound through the Sommet Center instead of the song’s lyrics – “WOO HOO!” Since leaving Nashville, he was again given the honor to represent the Panthers at the NHL All-Star Game, proving that his time in Nashville was more than successful. Vokoun’s departure from Nashville is still a stinging moment in Trotz’s mind.

“During the summer when the team was sold to new management, we were at a time when we couldn’t afford the Kariya’s and the Vokoun’s, but Chris Mason was able to step up and be our guy,” Trotz said.

Mason had started in several games while Vokoun was out due to injury in 2000-06, and after the 6-0, 195-pounder showed his stuff during a the run to the playoffs that spring, the Preds coaching staff knew he was solid enough to handle the starting position. During the 2006-07 season, Mason ranked second in the NHL in save percentage (.925), tied for sixth in shutouts (5) and 10th in goals-against averag (2.38). Trotz remembers Mason as being one of the best players he has ever coached.

“Mason’s work ethic was tremendous and he’s one of the most favorite guys I will ever coach,” Nashville’s only coach in history said. “He practiced hard, played hard, and was a tremendous person on and off the ice.”

Dan Ellis
Mason’s seven successful seasons with the Preds came to an end this past summer when the St. Louis Blues acquired the Red Deer, Alta., native, and Mason has been one of the best goalies in the league for them down the stretch.

“I think he’s fit in really well there in St. Louis,” goalie Dan Ellis said. “It’s great to see him turn his game around and help that team make a run for the cup. He’s very well missed here in Nashville because he made a lot of close friends.”

As one of Nashville’s current netminders, Ellis knows what it is like to work closely under Mason and to learn from his experience.

“It was great working with him,” Ellis said. “Mason is the ultimate professional. He works hard everyday and he has an incredible attitude.”

Among the many things that Ellis was able to learn under Mason’s tutelage, he says that the best piece of advice was to “just to play your game and not to allow outside circumstances to affect the way that you play.”

Pekka Rinne
Currently Nashville is solid in goal with Ellis and rookie Pekka Rinne, who has emerged as a Calder Trophy candidate at the end of this season. After being drafted 258th overall in 2005, Rinne is turning into yet another success story in net for the Preds. These types of stories make Trotz extremely proud of the way goaltending has changed in Nashville over the last 10 years.

“The evolution of our goaltending is sometimes by play, but sometimes it’s by circumstance,” Trotz said. “We may not have ever found out if Chris Mason was going to be our starting goalie if it wasn’t for Vokoun’s injury. We may not have known if Dan Ellis could play at the NHL level if we didn’t give him the opportunity at training camp. Some teams have their minds made up of who their goalie is going to be, and you lose out on guys like that. We as an organization have been fortunate enough to find the Dan Ellis’ of the world. You get lots of good stories.”

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