Knights new No. 1 looking to hog net

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

There were a few times last season when many wondered if Steve Mason would get to stand in the London Knights crease again.

Now, it might become a rather difficult chore to remove him.

"I want to play about 55 (of 68 OHL regular-season) games this year," said the big 18-year-old goalie from Oakville. "If I'm able to do that, it would show I'm playing well and the team wants me in there. I have the role of being the No. 1 guy now and I want to show I'm up to the job."

Playing in 55 OHL games is going to be a large leap for the six-foot-three goaltender, who watched Adam Dennis assume that burden last season en route to the league's top goalie honours. If Mason tends the twine close to the calibre of Dennis, the Knights will be tough to topple again this season.

"Steve has the frame to do it," London goalie coach Dave Rook said. "Plus, Columbus (NHL Blue Jackets) drafted him and they would like to see him play that many games. Those three-games-in-three-days stretches are tough on a young goalie, but he has been working hard and he's determined to do well."

Late last season, Mason provided glimpses of brilliance while filling in for Dennis when the older goalie was sidelined by suspension and injury. The rookie got a chance to play in the OHL final against Peterborough and his fine performance made him attractive enough to warrant a third-round pick (69th overall) by Columbus.

Mason leaves for NHL rookie camp today in Traverse City, Mich., and rejoins the Knights Sept. 18 -- four days before he will try to avenge an embarrassing 10-7 loss to Saginaw in his first OHL start a year ago.

"I worked a lot this summer to prepare myself for the season," Mason said. "To play this many games, the mental part is important. I learned some things from Adam last year when he played."

While Dennis had the bulky goaltender equipment last season, Mason has to contend with the league's switch to smaller gear to mirror the changes instituted in the NHL last year. The leg pads have been trimmed an inch, the blocker's smaller and the catching glove has shrunk a whopping three inches.

"The glove is what you notice the most because you can allow unnecessary rebounds if you don't catch the puck cleanly in the pocket," Mason said. "But really, I like the new stuff. It makes you lighter and you're able to move a lot quicker."

The downsized gear also gives shooters a better look at the net, but Rook doesn't think Mason is going to suffer from it. "He fills a lot of the net anyway, so I don't know how much better it's going to look for a shooter."

While Mason is training with Columbus, the Knights have a chance to sort out their backup situation. German Tsatsura and Jordan Bent are working out with the club. Londoner Chris Abbey, who played for Sudbury last year and was dealt to the Knights in the summer, was released yesterday along with veteran forwards Jamie VanderVeeken, Chris Ferguson and defenceman Kelan Herr. VanderVeeken's departure leaves four over-age players on the roster -- Robbie Drummond, Trevor Kell, Ryan Martinelli and Kris Belan.

OHL PRESEASON

Tomorrow: Knights at Windsor, 7:30 p.m. at Windsor Arena

Friday: Windsor at Knights, 7:30 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre

HEADING TO NHL CAMPS

Robbie Drummond (Columbus)

Steve Mason (Columbus)

David Jarram (Detroit)

Josh Beaulieu (Philadelphia)

Sergei Kostitsyn (Montreal)

David Meckler (Los Angeles)

Ryan Martinelli (Pittsburgh)


Photos