FanHouse Chats With Columbus Blue Jackets Goalie Steve Mason
We had a chance to catch up with him this week and discuss his rookie season, being a "system goalie," and which players in the NHL he doesn't want to face on a breakaway (along with the ones he wouldn't mind facing).
Our Susan Slusser recently spoke to your general manager, Scott Howson, and he pretty much said that nobody in the organization expected you to be this good, this fast. What were your expectations coming into the season? Were you expecting to be the No. 1 goalie at some point, or were you just hoping to get a taste of the NHL?
Yeah, obviously when I first went into training camp I was rehabbing a knee injury, but my goal was to make the team. Obviously getting hurt in camp kind of diminished those hopes, but at that point I went down to Syracuse, played well there and had an opportunity to come back up.
I told myself if I ever got that opportunity to get back up I wanted to make the most of it and be a starter in the NHL.
Were you expecting to win the Calder Trophy and be nominated for the Vezina in your rookie season?
Well, you always set goals for yourself. Obviously for myself it wasn't to win the Calder or win the Vezina, or even be nominated, I just wanted to come in and do a good job, play consistently and give the team a chance to win. I think without the group of guys on our team I wouldn't have been close to having the success I had, especially earlier in the season, which allowed me to win the Calder.
Early last season, after a game against the Detroit Red Wings, Chris Osgood said that your style reminded him a lot of Tom Barrasso. Are there any goalies, past or present, that you've tried to model yourself after?
I don't think I've really tried to model my complete style after anybody, but growing up I always liked watching (Martin) Brodeur, and watching the way he handled the puck and acting as a third defenseman back there. When I was younger that was always something I tried to incorporate into my game and hopefully that can continue to benefit my game moving forward as I work on it.
If there was one piece of, let's call it skepticism, I saw this year regarding your play, it's that sometimes people would point to Ken Hitchcock's defensive system and how beneficial it can be for goalies. Every once in a while I would see somebody point to the numbers Pascal Leclaire put up a season ago as an example. How do you react to the belief -- and I should emphasize that it's not a particularly large belief -- that it's "the system" that created your success this season?
Well there's always people that are going to have their opinion, and they're entitled to it, but, really, it's no lie. Obviously any goalie is going to benefit from playing in a defensive system. It Doesn't mean they couldn't have success in another type of system, but it definitely helps out. I mean, I played on some junior teams that were a lot of offense, but I still handled myself quite well.
I'm not complaining about the situation I've been put in with Columbus, it's very goaltender friendly, and if people want to comment and say the success is because of the system, well, they're probably right because any goalie would benefit from playing in a defensive system.
Do you ever pay attention to hockey blogs or message boards and get an idea of what people are talking about, or do you just try to avoid all of that?
I try to stay away from it, and I think any athlete would be better off doing that. People are allowed to have their opinions, good or bad, but I think it's just best to stay away from it and focus on the task at hand, and for myself that's just getting better every year. Moving forward you can't really worry about what people are thinking or saying about you.
You had a pretty eventful season off the ice, and one of the big things was you going through mono. How much of a challenge was that for you to get back into the swing of things and the challenge of playing in the NHL?
It was extremely difficult. I was probably playing with it for a couple of weeks before I found out about it, and those weeks were tough because I didn't know what was wrong with me. I was just extremely tired, and there were times I just wanted to pass out on the ice, but I didn't know what was wrong until I finally got tested for it. It was almost kind of a calming feeling when I found out that it was mono and that it wasn't something else that was going wrong.
It was extremely difficult finding the energy to play the games. You know, we're playing every other night and it takes a toll on you, especially when you have a sickness like mono, it just makes it even harder. I think once the organization found out that's what I was dealing with they were really good about giving me some time off.
The other big one was the incident with the Calgary Flames fan, when he placed some threatening calls to the arena during a game. Is that something you think about when you're on the road or mingling with fans?
Not really. The organization handled it really well and they made sure I felt comfortable. I didn't even find out until after the game that something had gone on like that. When I was the star of the game and I wasn't allowed to go out and salute the fans, that was kind of the first indication that something was wrong. Honestly, it's not something I really think about anymore. Obviously there are people out there that want to have their five minutes of fame or whatever, but it's not something I worry about anymore. It's not something you want to deal with, obviously, but it's one of those things that just kind of happens.
One of the big moves the team made this offseason was signing Rick Nash to a long-term contract extension. How important is it for you guys to have him in Columbus as a building block going forward?
It's huge. Obviously he's the heart and soul of the hockey team. Without him it's entirely different and I think it's good for the organization and will help to attract players. When they see Rick Nash is locked up long-term and that the organization is committed to winning, it might help lure players that might not have considered Columbus. Considering he's shown that type of commitment to the team it's also great for the younger guys looking to win because, again, without him it's an entirely different team.
Columbus is still a relatively new hockey market. What is your opinion of the fan base there? Is it a city you think has a chance to continue to grow as a market and be successful long-term?
Oh, absolutely. It was my first year playing for Columbus, but it was a great experience. The fans are top-notch, they really like their hockey and they were really supportive down the stretch and obviously in the playoffs. It's a lot of fun to play here and I think I speak for all the players when I say that after a road trip they look forward to coming home and playing in front of the home fans. They're some of the loudest in the league and they definitely support their team very well.
Favorite hockey movie?
I'd probably have to go with Slap Shot. The original.
Not a fan of the sequel?
No, not at all. Absolutely not.
Were you ever a big fan of the hockey video games, like, for example, the old EA Sports NHL series on Sega?
Oh, yeah, I was more of a fan when I was younger, not so much anymore. I mean I used to play all the time, but now I try to stay away from it.
Who is the one player in the NHL you don't want to see coming at you on a breakaway?
Oh, man ... probably (Sidney) Crosby or (Evgeni) Malkin.
No Alex Ovechkin or Pavel Datsyuk?
Well ... I don't know, that's a good point. Let's go with Crosby or Ovechkin.
OK, who is the one player in the NHL you wouldn't mind facing on a breakaway? And don't be afraid to be honest.
(laughs) Um, if I can say guys on my own team I'd probably go with a Jared Boll or Derek Dorsett.
As a goalie, do you like the idea of a shootout deciding tie games in the regular season?
It's exciting, I think it's good for the fans and obviously with the goalie it's a lot of pressure on you, but if you come out on top it's a great feeling.