Goalie Mason on guard for thee; Former 'nobody' to start for juniors in quarterfinal
02.01.2008. Panzeri, Allen. The Ottawa Citizen

 PARDUBICE, Czech Republic - Only three years ago, when he was 16, Steve Mason was with the Grimsby Jr. C Peach Kings of the Niagara Junior C Hockey League, treading water as a hockey player and not sure he was going anywhere.

The year before, he wasn't picked by the London Knights until the 11th round of the Ontario Hockey League draft (201st overall). So he didn't know he was even going to make it there, either.

Today, Mason, 19, will lead Canada into the medal round of the world junior hockey championship against Finland in the first quarterfinal game.

It doesn't get any more Canadian than that. Before you know it, he'll be in a Tim Hortons commercial. Now all he has to do is that other Canadian thing: win.

"I think about that all the time," Mason said of his days with Grimsby. "It kind of humbles you. You can't get too full of yourself.

"It's kind of funny. I was kind of a nobody back then, always the underdog, and I kind of used that underdog thing as a little motivation.

"Coming into (the Canadian junior team selection) camp, I was probably the lowest kid drafted (by the Columbus Blue Jackets, 67th overall), so I don't think many people picked me to come out on top."

That Mason got the nod will make for some crowded living rooms in Oakville, where his parents -- Bill and Donna, who couldn't make the trip to the Czech Republic -- and his extended family will be watching.

Russia plays the Czech Republic in the other quarterfinal.

Thanks to placing first in their round-robin groups, Sweden (4- 0) and the United States (4-0) have byes into the semifinals on Friday

The winner of the game between Canada (3-1) and Finland (2-2) will play the U.S., while the Czech-Russia winner will play the Swedes.

The bronze- and gold-medal games are Saturday.

To win its fourth straight gold medal at this tournament, Canada has to win three games in four days, something it has done only once before, in 1997.

Team Canada coach Craig Hartsburg said he would have been comfortable picking either Mason or Jonathan Bernier of the QMJHL's Lewiston Maineiacs. Mason was the top goalie in the round-robin with a save percentage of .974. Bernier was second at .948.

Bernier's Waterloo might have been the four third-period goals he allowed to Sweden in a 4-3 loss on Saturday, though Hartsburg refused to blame him.

"There's nothing Jonathan did wrong," said Hartsburg. "We just feel (Mason) is the guy for us. He was outstanding against the Finns in the (pre-championship) exhibition game. I feel bad for Jonathan. He's a character kid and a great goaltender. But we all feel confident Mase is the guy."

Mason won two games in the round robin, 2-0 over Slovakia and 4- 1 over Denmark, and he beat Finland 4-2 in an exhibition game in Chrudim, three days before the championship started.

That was a factor, as well as Mason's size -- he's six-foot- three and 190 pounds -- and his ability to handle the puck. Mason said he's just trying to be like his favourite player, New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, considered the best stickhandler among goaltenders in the NHL.

"He's probably the best guy at it in the tournament," said teammate Thomas Hickey, a defenceman with the WHL's Seattle Thunderbirds. "He's like a third defenceman out there. He makes that outlet pass so quick it keeps the other team on their heels."

Mason started in hockey as a forward/defenceman, so he is used to handling the puck, but he also practises it in London with Dave Rook, the Knights' goaltending coach.

During Monday's game against Denmark, Mason made a couple of long passes out of his zone, one a monster to John Tavares at centre ice. He did it hoping the coaches would notice. "I wasn't getting much action, so I got the chance and thought I'd make the passes," he said. "I wanted to make sure the coaches knew what I was bringing to the table."

While assistant coach Clement Jodoin knows Bernier well, having coached him for three years at Lewiston, Hartsburg knows Mason well from having faced him in the OHL. Mason's Knights defeated Hartsburg's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in seven games last year in the OHL Western Conference semifinal.

Last year, Mason set the OHL record for most wins, going 45-13, and was named the league's goalie of the year.

Mason's time with the Peach Kings was well spent, though he concedes it must have had people wondering if "he was going anywhere with his career."

He took the Peach Kings to the 2004-05 Ontario junior C championships, which was good enough to get him a trip to London the following year to serve as backup to Adam Dennis. He only played 12 games (5-3-0), but his talent was easy to recognize and the Columbus Blue Jackets picked him.

In September, he appeared in three of Columbus' pre-season games, posting a 1-2-0 record with a 1.78 goals-against average and .913 save percentage. The win, 4-1 over the Sabres in Buffalo, was especially memorable, because he made 20 saves, was named one of the game's stars, and had his parents in the crowd.

Mason said now that he's got the chance, he intends to make the most of it.

"It's an awesome feeling," he said. "I take a lot of pride in my hockey and to be Canada's No. 1 goaltender for the world junior tournament is an unbelievable feeling.
"I've got a big smile on my face and it's something I'm looking to get going. They're giving me the ball and I'm going to run with it." 

За 3 место. США - Россия. Голы россиян.
Финал. Швеция - Канада
Финал. Интервью с Марчандом.
Подгруппа А
Канада, Швеция, Чехия, Словакия, Дания
Подгруппа В
Россия, США, Финляндия, Швейцария, Казахстан
За 7-10 места
Слования, Казахстан, Швейцария, Дания

1/4 финала
Канада - Финляндия
Россия - Чехия
1/2 финала
Швеция - Россия
США - Канада
Чехия - Финляндия
США - Россия
Канада - Швеция
Первая страничка турнира
Статистика турнира
Молодежные чемпионаты мира (до 20 лет) 2008 года.
Первая страничка
Дивизион I. Группа А
Дивизион I. Группа B
Дивизион II. Группа А
Дивизион II. Группа B
Дивизион III