Mason's quick rise puts him on OHL team

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 9:52 AM ET

SARNIA -- Steve Mason is a study in contradictions.

The London Knights goalie catches pucks with his right hand when the majority wear their trappers on the left.

He was selected in the 11th round (201st overall) of the OHL draft, but garnered a third-round pick -- despite limited play -- by Columbus in last summer's NHL draft.

He went from a cruel punch line early in his rookie season -- Is Mason starting tonight? -- as veteran Adam Dennis carried the crease load to becoming his team's most indispensible player this year.

Heck, the six-foot-three puckstopper even refused the temptation of scarfing down Halloween treats last month because he's totally committed to eating healthy and keeping his energy levels high all season.

"You get a little jealous of the kids out there collecting the candy because you want some, too," the 18-year-old Oakville native said at the time, "but it's not good for you, so I didn't have any."

Last night in Sarnia, Mason realized a small portion of a bigger dream by pulling on the Canadian colours for Team OHL in its opening game against a Russian select squad in the third instalment of the Canadian Hockey League's ADT Canada-Russia Challenge at the Sarnia Sports and Entertainment Centre.

He didn't get the start last night as expected, but Mason's play in the two-game set -- he's splitting net duties with Peterborough's Trevor Cann -- could lead to an invitation to the Canadian world junior team's training camp this year.

But Mason, whose goalie hero is Team Canada mainstay Martin Brodeur, downplayed the impact of the games.

"I just want to keep going the way I've been going this year and if they invite me, they invite me," he said. "It's obviously an honour to play on a team with guys who are considered some of the best players in the OHL."

Not many who saw the youngster get pulled early in his OHL debut against Saginaw on opening night last year expected to see him get here this quickly. The Knights, amidst criticism they were stunting his development, didn't start him again for nearly five months, shifted him to Petrolia for seasoning in the Western Ontario Hockey League and let him watch and learn from Dennis.

"I never like to put a young kid in a position where they can fail," London general manager Mark Hunter said. "He wasn't ready for that first game. He didn't have time to work with our goalie coach Dave Rook and it's opening night, there's 9,000 people in the stands and all the Memorial Cup stuff going on.

"But when we put him in there again, he was ready. He had time to work in practice with Dave and people saw a different goaltender.

"He was good and he played well for us (when Dennis went down with an injury in the OHL final)."

Hunter gives Rook and scout Dave Syvret credit for discovering the lanky puckstopper.

"He was playing minor midget in Oakville and you never know how a player is going to turn out as a minor midget," Hunter said. "But they liked him and we picked him in the 11th round, which was pretty good."

Mason has been nothing short of spectacular this season, especially lately in two road games this week against Toronto and Sarnia.

He has kicked aside clear-cut breakaways and goal-mouth blasts with stunning regularity.

"You always worry about your No. 1 goalie," Hunter said. "All goalies will say they prefer to face a lot of shots, but hopefully, we can cut down the number he has seen lately."

Mason doesn't think being a right-handed glove is an advantage, calling it simply a different look for shooters.

Hunter isn't sure if it helps, but he knows Knights assistant Dave Gagner doesn't like it because his team has to practise against it (backup Stephane Cesar is also a right glove) and it's not that common.

Guelph defenceman and Londoner Drew Doughty thinks it does give Mason an advantage.

He was amazed at how well the Knights goalie played in an overtime win over Sarnia on Wednesday night.

"I think it does make a difference because you want to shoot at that low blocker side and for him, that's where his glove is," he said.

"For me, it's not a big deal because we had (former Knight prospect) Jason Guy in Guelph for a while and he's the same way."

Left or right, Mason is why the Knights are in flight again this season.

---

OHL 5 , RUSSIA 0

OHL goals: Matt Caria (Toronto), Cory Emmerton 2 (Kingston), John Tavares (Oshawa), Bryan Little (Barrie)

OHL shutout: Trevor Cann (Peterborough)

Next: The series continues Monday night in Oshawa.

Knights next game: Saginaw visits the John Labatt Centre today at 7:30 p.m.


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