Mason only interested in winning

RYAN PYETTE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:01 AM ET

Craig Hartsburg won't say if he will return behind the Canadian bench to defend the gold medal at the next world junior hockey championship.

But the Soo Greyhounds head coach knows he will spend a lot of time this week trying to solve a guy who's a prime crease candidate for that national team -- London goaltender Steve Mason.

Hartsburg, whose 'Hounds beat Saginaw in six games to set up a playoff rematch with the Knights in a best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal starting Thursday at the John Labatt Centre, was forced to cut Mason from the Canadian juniors this past December because the big puckstopper reported to training camp with a head injury.

"He's the best goalie in the league," Hartsburg said. "I felt sorry for the poor guy because that's a camp you want to come to healthy and he really only got one on-ice session in. But he'll certainly be in the mix next year to play for that team."

Mason, who faced 205 shots in a four-game sweep of Owen Sound in the first round, relishes the week off between games and always enjoys the prospect of facing a Hartsburg-coached club.

"I knew every time we played them, it was like a mini-showcase for me with him there," the 18-year-old Oakville native said. "But the world juniors is over and we're not worried about next year. All we're interested in is winning these games right now."

London comes into the series with a mental edge having won 12 straight against Sault Ste. Marie. The Knights haven't lost to the Greyhounds since a 4-2 defeat on the final day of the 2004-05 Memorial Cup season -- a game the powerhouse Knights chose to rest most of their top guns rather than have them make the trip north.

"We've had success against them this year, but the games have been close and they've made us work for it," said London forward Sam Gagner, who played for Hartsburg's gold medal-winning Canadians.

"There were two shootouts, an overtime win (in which Gagner roofed the winner) and another by one goal. They're a lot like Owen Sound in their approach and if we play smart hockey and don't turn the puck over, we'll be in good shape.

"The Sault is going to work hard and try to get off us off our game. If we can match their work ethic, then hopefully, our skill will rise to the top."

For Sault Ste. Marie, Hartsburg knows his top goalie will have to match Mason save-for-save.

Londoner Kyle Gajewski has yet to win a game in his hometown rink, but he showed resolve in recovering from a 7-1 drubbing in Game 5 against Saginaw to deliver the Sault's first playoff series victory in seven years.

"I wanted to show that he's our guy and we weren't giving up on him even though Saginaw gave up on their starter (Ryan Daniels) in the series," Hartsburg said. "We know going in London's the favourite -- they're not just (Pat) Kane and Gagner, but we're just going to do what we do and that's work hard. We were heavy underdogs against Saginaw and that was a team built with aspirations of making it to the Memorial Cup."

London's coaching staff had the chance to watch Game 5 of the Saginaw-Sault series in person and watch archived footage of the series.

It wasn't difficult to notice the Sault runs an effective power play through stud defenceman Josh Godfrey, who scored seven goals against Saginaw -- five with the man advantage.

"He has a heavy shot and he's their main man on the power play," Mason said. "When he gets the chance, he'll let it go and it gets on you pretty quick.

"It's important to be able to see it and our defence did a good job of that in the Owen Sound series. There were a lot of shots, but they let me see the puck.

"You look around the league and there's bigger names on defence out there, but our guys have been great. Todd Perry had a tough assignment with Bobby Ryan -- you hold the second overall (NHL pick) to two or three points in a series, that says something."

London captain Robbie Drummond, who hasn't played since suffering a concussion on Feb. 21, is back skating in practice, but his status is still day-to-day.

Defenceman Kevin Montgomery, who suffered a lower-body injury on March 8, is expected to try to play Thursday.

Suspended forward Josh Beaulieu will be eligible to return in Game 3 of the series.


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