Mason stones 'em

PAUL FRIESEN, SPORTS COLUMNIST

, Last Updated: 7:08 AM ET

PARDUBICE, Czech Republic -- So, Steve Mason, how was your day, yesterday?

"It was a difficult day to go through," Team Canada's 19-year-old goaltender began.

"Waking up, finding out I was traded. Then with all the people saying maybe I shouldn't be starting. And then I play the biggest game of my life.

"It was a whirlwind day."

And it ended with Mason proving so many of us wrong, backstopping Canada to a 4-1 victory over the U.S. and a berth in today's gold-medal final against Sweden at the World Junior Hockey Championship.

That Mason rebounded from a shaky effort in a quarter-final win over Finland Wednesday is one thing.

That he stopped 33 of 34 shots on the same day he learned his junior team, the Ontario League's London Knights, traded him to Kitchener, is another.

Toss in the fact he spent the last 48 hours reading and hearing he should be benched in favour of Jonathan Bernier, well, the guy deserves a medal.

Turns out he'll get one, too.

Seems the only thing Mason blocks out better than shots is distractions.

"I went to my pre-game nap and told myself I had to put everything out of my mind and focus on the game at hand," the Oakville, Ont., product said.

So when the Americans came out guns-a-blazing yesterday, he was ready, the only shot to beat him a meaningless one with some seven minutes left in the third period, Canada up by four.

"I was a little disappointed to see what people are saying," Mason said, admitting he and his teammates read the rags and watched the TV talking heads which picked his game apart.

"But at the same time I used it in my game. I'm happy coach Hartsburg put the faith in me. If I can pay him back by getting him a gold medal, I'll be pretty proud.

"We're definitely in this battle together."

Sure enough, a smiling Craig Hartsburg was in the dressing room to greet an equally satisfied Mason when it was over.

Had Mason stumbled and the Canadians lost, Hartsburg would have faced more second-guessing than a politician at a (insert name of scandal here) federal inquiry.

"He came through for us," Hartsburg said. "It was huge, his effort. He's shown a lot of character."

They say when you suit up for Team Canada, no matter how big a star you are with your club team, you check your previous identity at the door.

Never has that rung more true than it did for Mason yesterday.

"I'm not playing for Kitchener. I'm not playing for London," he said. "I'm playing for Team Canada. It's difficult to push that aside. I was able to do that."

And 19 others slapped their sticks on the ice when he was named Canada's player of the game.

"That was great to see," forward Shawn Matthias said. "He deserved that so much."


Videos

Photos