Although, someday I hope I get to post a photo of this kid raising the Cup above his head like Yzerman... well, I guess this cup kind of cool too, but I mean THE cup...
Okay, I love this kid.
This is Steve Mason, of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who might just be my favourite goalie in the National Hockey League (sorry Flower...).
Honestly. I'm SAD... I think I'm actually developing a crush on him. (Make whatever puck bunny comments you like, I really don't care because he's just so awesome that it makes ANY and ALL ridicule entirely bearable.) He's such a class act.
Now, for a little bit of history...
Mason only started twelve games his first OHL season. That June, he went third round (69th OA) to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2006 Entry Draft. Then, the following season (2006-2007) he blew everyone away when he earned the starting spot with the London Knights and went on to set the OHL record for regular season wins (45) and the CHL record for assists by a goalie (8), playing 62 games with the Knights and finishing the season with a 3.20 GAA (not STELLAR, but he did have a 0.914 SV% - that's 2123 saves in 3733 minutes of play, folks). Next time I criticize a goalie I'm going to try to imagine stopping even 199 of the 2322 pucks that came flying at him that season...
Mason started the 2007-2008 season in Columbus but was a healthy scratch for a couple games before begin sent back to the OHL.
That fall, he was selected to play on the U20 National team where he made saves like these...
And helped Team Canada win gold.
In doing so, he earned himself both the Top Goaltender and Tournament MVP titles.
Winning gold = dogpile on the goalie who made clutch saves in overtime until Matty Halischuck scored the game winner...
Incidentally, it was this tournament that put him on my (and most of Canada's) radar. I remember watching the first couple games and just thinking 'Wow, where the heck did this kid come from?' (From Oakville, apparently...)
I wasn't alone in my "Where did this kid come from?"-ness. During the 2008 World Junior Hockey Championships (hereafter the WJC) Allen Panzeri wrote the following for the Ottawa Citizen:
"Only three years ago, when he was 16, Steve Mason was with the Grimsby Jr. C Peach Kings of the Niagara Junior C [my emphasis, I'll explain below] Hockey League in Ontario, 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.
This afternoon [January 2nd, 2008], Mason, 19, will lead Team Canada into the medal round of the world junior hockey championship, against Finland (2-2) in the first quarter-final 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 (Team Canada) 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."
Two days after this article was published, on January 4th, 2008, only hours before the semi-final game against the United States, Mason was traded to the Kitchener Rangers, who wanted him for their Memorial Cup run. He's that good.
For a kid who'd been playing in the fourth tier junior league only three years earlier -because, in Canada, Junior C is below Major Junior (the CHL), Junior A (BCHL / OPJHL et c.), and Junior B- it's a heck of a step up. Then Mason was called up to Columbus (again) in February. He never played, but the fact that he'd been called up to the NHL twice was significant in and of itself. From Junior C to the NHL in only 3 years... now that is something.
The Kitchener Rangers went on to win the OHL title, and made it to the Memorial Cup final, but without Mason, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on April 18th (2008) after wrecking his knee in March and playing through it for the rest of the regular season and the first round of the OHL playoffs. Incidentally, the Rangers lost in the Memorial Cup final to the Spokane Chiefs, whose netminder, Dustin Tokarski, was Canada's starting goalie at this year's WJC.
Mason underwent further surgery for his knee in September 2008 and missed the first month of his first professional season with the AHL's Syracuse Crunch. Following his recovery, he played only three games with the Crunch before being called up to start for the Blue Jackets when their starting goalie, Pascal Leclaire injured his ankle.
On November 5th, 2008 he played (and started) his first NHL game against the Edmonton Oilers. Columbus won 5-4. (Mason got the game puck :P)
Within the week, he was on his way to becoming a local hero.
Seventeen days later, he played his first NHL shutout against the Atlanta Thrashers.
His record through November and December 2008? 12-7-1.
It earned him the NHL's Rookie of the Month title for November. And then again for December. It also earned him the following, on the Columbus website:
Thanks to Mason, the Columbus Blue Jackets actually have a serious a shot at the playoffs! If they make it this season, Mason will be in large part responsible for their FIRST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE EVER!!!
This is only funny to me because of this:
Offside --> After I saw that clip, I couldn't wait for Stefan Legein to make the jump to the NHL. Can you imagine the marketing opportunities a guy like him would provide? Mix Crosby's good looks (only Legein's WAY cuter), Max Talbot's charisma, and Colby Armstrong's sense of humour. He's an NHL triple threat.
(I adore Legein; I couldn't help myself from going as far as naming one my characters after him: any and all similarities between Stefan Legein and Stephane Leduc are completely and TOTALLY intentional.)
So, you can understand why my heart broke when Legein (who went 37th OA to Columbus in the 2007 draft) decided not to show up to the Blue Jackets' camp last year and, for all intents and purposes, quit playing pro hockey. I actually came close to tears because, after the 2008 WJC, I was actually prepared to start cheering for Columbus solely because of him and Mason.
At least I get to cheer for Mason. And, admittedly, I have a lot to cheer about...
Steve Mason's record since his NHL debut (as of January 27th, 2009): 17-11-2.
Mason currently has the best GAA in the league (2.05) and the 5th best Sv% (0.926). Six of his seventeen wins have been shutouts. And Columbus is only 2 points out of a playoff spot right now (49 points & #10 in the West)- it's worth noting that there is only a four point difference in the western conference between the #6 team (Edmonton) @ 51 points, and the #12 team (Colorado) @ 47. Unlike the east, it's actually going to be a race for playoff spots in the west.
**LATE EDIT: After the game tonight vs. Detroit, Columbus is now #5 - that's how close it is...
Since the Sens are CLEARLY not going to make playoffs (if they make it, I will... I don't know, dare me to do something ridiculous... and I'll do it if the Sens make playoffs), and since the Pens are probably going to choke in the first round as is post-Cup-appearance tradition, I'm considering bandwagonning it this post-season.
I live in Vancouver and the Canucks aren't completely sucking this year but, to be honest, I have trouble cheering for them.
I could cheer for the Habs, except that I've got this stupid addiction to cheering for the underdogs and Montreal so isn't an underdog team this year.
So I think I'm going to root for Columbus.
Because how can you not love this kid?
Left: Mason and one of his physical trainers.
Right: Mason and his mom. (That's your cue, say it with me: Awwwe!)
Get your game on, go play!
... and all that glitters is gold, only shooting stars break the mold...
Because he's a goalie, Mason is a "dark horse" (SNORT) for the Calder Trophy this season. Um, right cause Stamkos and Doughty are leading the lea- BAHAHAHA, I can't even finish that sentence! (Don't get me wrong, Stamkos and Doughty are good, but not my pick for rookie of the year...)
STEVE MASON for the CALDER TROPHY!!!
Sorry Dany, you're going to have to score me a couple dozen more goals this season to keep top-place in my hockey heart... (Hit 40 goals or 80 points and we can talk babe.)