Whalers have made Mason's life miserable

RYAN PYETTE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:14 AM ET

The London Knights got the old Steve Mason back in time for Game 7 of their second-round showdown with the Soo Greyhounds.

Now, they'll need a new -- some would say superhuman-calibre -- version of Mason for the best-of-seven OHL Western Conference final series against the Plymouth Whalers.

In the aftermath of winning 8-4 over the Greyhounds on Monday night at the John Labatt Centre, the 18-year-old London goalie admitted he had gritted his teeth and played through part of the Sault Ste. Marie series hurt. The slight injury, suffered in the latter stages of the four-game sweep over the Attack, is no longer affecting his mobility in the crease.

"I had something happen in the Owen Sound series but it's OK now," Mason said. "I'm fine now and I'm ready. We survived against a good team in the Soo and we know we have a big test coming up for us with Plymouth."

The Whalers have the size and strength up front to make life miserable for Mason. He struggled against them in three of four regular-season meetings and heard all about it from fellow Columbus draft picks Jared Boll and Tom Sestito. The Whalers scored seven times against the Knights twice this year and chased him from the goal on Feb. 3.

But the OHL's goalie of the year got the hook in Game 6 of the Soo series and bounced back with a solid effort to help the Knights secure safe passage to the third round for a fourth straight year.

"Any good goalie will take pride in their game and want to be at their best in big games," he said. "I took a long time to think about what I could do better."

The Greyhounds successfully went upstairs on Mason during the series but the Knights stopper did a good job of protecting the upper half of the net in Game 7. Like the Sault, Plymouth will try to get traffic in front of him because even the best goalies have trouble stopping screened shoots, tip-ins and pucks that take crazy bounces off shin pads and skates. That's been a Whaler specialty against the Knights.

No matter how many game-savers Mason provides, he knows, at minimum, he has to be better than the guy at the other end of the rink every night. He felt a bit sorry for Londoner Kyle Gajewski in the Sault net in Game 7.

"You do a little bit because you know what he's going through," Mason said. "It's a tough situation because he had been solid for the first six games of the series."

London has the potential to be outshot consistently by Plymouth but Mason has thrived on that kind of workload.

In the Whalers net,Czech Michal Neuvirth, who finished runner-up to Mason in the top goalie race, has seen action in seven of nine playoff games but Jeremy Smith is not to be overlooked. Plymouth head coach Mike Vellucci has juggled the two successfully all season.

From the 2004-05 Memorial Cup season with Ryan MacDonald and Gerald Coleman and then Adam Dennis, London coach Dale Hunter can attest that having two potential starting goalies is just one more thing that has to be worked through when preparing for each game.

"You have to make a difficult decision every night," Vellucci said.

There is no such doubt in the London Knights net.


Videos

Photos