Mason to play for Canada

RYAN PYETTE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:30 AM ET

It didn't take long for goalie Steve Mason to establish himself as the most important player on the London Knights last year.

The big puckstopper has taken aim at serving in the same capacity for the Canadian world junior hockey team this season.

The 19-year-old Oakville native will join London teammate Sam Gagner and participate in the heavily promoted Canada/Russia Super Series, an eight-game exhibition tour that runs Aug. 27 to Sept. 9 and loosely mimics the original Summit Series played between the two hockey nations 35 years ago.

"I've seen highlights of the old series on the computer -- the Henderson goal -- so I know the history," Mason said. "There's three goalies and the way I understand it, we're all going to Russia (for the first four games of the series). We're going to rotate throughout."

Mason was set to join Canada's gold medal-winning junior squad last December but was sent home from training camp by head coach Craig Hartsburg after suffering concussion-like symptoms stemming from a collision with a Windsor player just days before travelling to Calgary.

This remains the biggest piece of unfinished business for the goalie. He has cemented the job as the No. 1 guy in the Knights net, won the OHL's top netminder award last year and signed a three-year entry level contract with Columbus Blue Jackets.

"It was nice to sign the contract and get that out of the way," the six-foot-three, 186-pounder said. "I know this series is important for Team Canada and I'm excited to go, although I don't think we'll be doing a lot of sight-seeing in Russia. You don't want to play poorly because you know they're (Hartsburg and the Canadian scouts) watching and evaluating your every move."

Mason remains an early front-runner along with Super Series teammates Jonathan Bernier of the Quebec league's Lewiston MAINEiacs and Everett Silvertips goalie Leland Irving, backup on the Canadian team last year.

The Super Series essentially replaces Hockey Canada's annual under-20 summer development camp held by Hockey Canada. The Americans recently held their world junior evaluation camp in Lake Placid, N.Y. and Knights Pat Kane, Kevin Montgomery and newly-signed forward Tony Romano participated.

Mason and Gagner were denied the opportunity to play a Super Series game on home ice at the John Labatt Centre when the arena's management and Hockey Canada failed to come to terms on the financial structure of the event. Instead, the four nationally televised "home" games will be held in western Canada -- Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Red Deer and Vancouver.

It could be some time before Knights fans see their starting goalie, who is banking on an extra-long look from the Columbus brass. If that's the case, the Knights will have to employ a suitable replacement or risk repeating the feeble 0-4 start to the 2005-06 campaign.

"I'll miss all of Knights camp and there's a chance I won't be back for the first four games of the (OHL) season," Mason said. "It looks like we're going to have a good team in London again this year and I'm excited about that."

Mason has been back this summer to work with London goalie coach Dave Rook -- "we're just fine-tuning my approach at this point," he said. He has also been to Calgary for Canada's goalie camp and went to Columbus for a week to skate the day after the draft.

"I didn't go to the draft but I was so happy for Pat (Kane) and especially Sam (Gagner), who had the biggest smile of anyone there after he was picked by Edmonton," he said. "I've been skating quite a bit in Brampton and getting ready for the season. I'm looking forward to it."

As a testament to his commitment to practice, Mason went yesterday to hit a couple of buckets of golf balls to prepare for the Knights' annual golf tournament slated for this week.

"I don't want to look like a plug out there," he said.


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