Mason awes young goalies

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:20 AM ET

The hockey camp kids at Dave Rook's Mustangs goalie school were surrounded by star power at the lively Western Fair Sports Centre this week.

There was Canadian Hockey League player of the year Cody Hodgson, the Vancouver Canucks' first-rounder and Brampton Battalion forward, working out.

And it was no big shocker to see Washington Capitals first-rounder John Carlson, San Jose top pick Logan Couture and Rob Schremp and Sam Gagner of the Edmonton Oilers organization firing pucks.

But there was one guy all of Rook's goalies-to-be -- fresh from taking instruction from pro puckstoppers Gerald Coleman and Kyle Gajewski -- wanted to see. The buzz went through the building when the Columbus Blue Jackets' Steve Mason arrived for a visit.

That's the kind of attention the reigning Calder Trophy winner commands these days after following former London Knights teammate Pat Kane, the Chicago Blackhawks shooter, as the NHL's rookie of the year.

"Pat and I were talking about that and with John Tavares coming into the league (on the New York Islanders), it could be three years in a row with Knights winning the Calder," Mason said while visiting Rook and working out at his old London stomping grounds. "I haven't got the (keepsake mini version of the) trophy yet. It was shipped to Montreal first to be engraved."

At the NHL awards in Las Vegas last month, Mason thanked Rook, his old Knights mentor, during his acceptance speech. The Blue Jackets rewarded their new net star by hiring his long-time mentor as their goaltending coach.

"It's one of 30 jobs in the world and that's such an honour," said Rook, who will continue to live in London. "You never want to turn down an NHL opportunity, but you don't know who you're going to work with and how it could end up. With Mase, it's someone I've known for a long time and that really helps.

"I'm not going to change who I am. But I'm going to learn from Steve. I'm going to learn from Mathieu Garon. Those are the guys playing the games."

Mason leaned on Rook after he left the Knights. He called his old coach when he struggled with knee injuries -- and eventually two surgeries -- that ruined his Memorial Cup hopes with the Kitchener Rangers.

He also dialed him up for chats during his fine first NHL season in Columbus.

Mason considers Rook a good friend, but the coach knows, especially now, he has to be the guy able to dole out criticism when needed.

"I'm still the coach and we haven't crossed that line," Rook said. "I don't ask Steve about his personal life. If something's bothering him and he thinks he needs to tell me, it's up to him. But part of being a professional athlete is performing on the ice even if the off-the-ice isn't going well.

"He got where he is by hard work. He has his eyes on the prize. He's not going to be a person you have to worry about going out or drinking and losing focus on his job."

Besides teaching skills, Rook builds confidence. Four years ago in his first OHL start, Mason was yanked early after allowing five goals on 14 shots.

He didn't start again for four months and it tore him up. He sat on the bench mostly watching Adam Dennis play.

Not many were projecting the development of one of the best goalies in pro hockey.

"We didn't know what we had back then," London GM Mark Hunter said. "Steve was big and quick and we knew Dave Rook liked him, but it just shows he had the will to get better. He was competitive. He wanted to play and made sure he didn't miss his chance."

Rook challenged Mason to shut down the Knights' top shooters -- David Bolland, Rob Schremp and Dylan Hunter -- in practice.

"I told him if you can stop those guys consistently, you can do well in this league," Rook said. "Later in the year, Dylan Hunter skated up to his dad Dale and said he loves shooting on Mase because he tries so hard all the time."

An NHL-calibre work ethic was born.

"I had to," Mason said. "I didn't have a choice. It's how I had to earn the Hunters' (Mark and Dale's) trust. I got into the mindset in practice where I didn't want to let in one goal. It doesn't seem like that long ago I was playing my first game in London and getting lit up.

"But it's gone pretty well."

There will be ups and downs along the way. Mason knows it. Rook is ready for it.


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