Knights goalie eager to face East leaders

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

"Watch and learn from Adam Dennis," the London Knights brass told rookie goalie Steve Mason this year.

It has turned into a familiar, and often frustrating, refrain. The 17-year-old puckstopper hasn't had much of an opportunity to prove himself this season.

But with Dennis serving a two-game suspension for leaving the crease to fight Plymouth goalie Justin Peters last Friday, Mason knows a strong performance against the OHL's Eastern Conference-leading Peterborough Petes tonight will go a long way in making him the front-runner for the Knights' starting job next year.

"I watched him (Dennis) play 45 straight games so I had the chance to learn a lot," the six-foot-three, 180-pound Mason said. "He's probably the best goaltender in the league so it helps to watch a guy like that. In practice, I have three of the top (scorers) in the league shooting at me. You can only learn so much playing games in junior B, but to have guys who are going to be in the NHL in the next few years shooting at you every day, that makes a big difference. It's helped me stay sharp."

Mason has quickly gained confidence in stringing together wins against Mississauga on Feb. 5 and a shocking victory in Kitchener last Sunday.

"Mississauga was great because it was my first (OHL) win, but to go into Kitchener with almost 7,000 people in the Aud and help our team win, that gave me a lot of confidence," Mason said. "I'm looking forward to (Peterborough) and showing the team and the fans what I can do."

London goalie coach Dave Rook has worked with Mason since the lanky teen was picked in the 11th round of the 2004 draft.

"He played junior C last year in Grimsby and took over the starting job and got to play in a couple of big Game 7s during the playoffs," he said. "That's where you see what a goalie's made of."

Mason credits Rook with keeping him positive and constantly putting him in the forefront of the coaches' minds.

"Any success I've had is due to him," Mason said. "He's the first real goalie coach I've had and I know he has been pulling for me to play and telling the coaches that I'm ready."

Dennis, 21, knows how difficult it is to split time with another netminder as he did with Coleman during last year's Memorial Cup run and he has tried to act as a mentor to his backup and push him to be a better goalie.

"I know it's been a tough year for him because anyone who's a competitor wants to play but he's worked hard and never gets too down," Dennis said. "He has improved a lot since the start of the season and he's going to be a terrific No. 1 next year."

While Mason will get the call tonight, London has decided to sit out forward Robbie Drummond as a precaution. Drummond, 19, had been cleared to play but hasn't been in the lineup since being carried off the ice last Friday night against Plymouth.

KNIGHTWATCH

Tonight: vs. Peterborough, 7:30 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre

Tomorrow: at Sault Ste. Marie, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday: at Saginaw, 2 p.m.


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