PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Steve Mason was about to tee off on the back nine when Brayden Schenn interrupted with a breaking report.
“Have you heard the news,” Schenn asked.
A puzzled Mason had no clue what Schenn was about to spill: Ilya Bryzgalov had his contract bought out by the Philadelphia Flyers.
When it comes to Flyers goaltenders, Mason is suddenly the leader in the clubhouse.
Mason finished his round with a solid day on the course and the realization that he is, for now, Philadelphia’s No. 1 goalie entering next season.
Sure, his solid month as a Flyer after he was acquired from Columbus merited a deeper look from the organization. But the Flyers mostly wanted to get rid of the flaky Russian who never performed up to the $51 million, nine-year deal he signed in 2011.
Mason has the chance to prove he’s more the goalie who was the NHL’s rookie of the year in 2008-09 and not the one who posted a goals-against average of 3-plus each of the next three seasons.
“I’m prepared to be the No. 1 guy,” Mason said by phone from Toronto. “I feel I’ve come a long way in the last few years in the growing-up process of being a goaltender in the NHL.”
Mason had it all figured out when he went 33-20-7 with 10 shutouts and won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2008-09, the only season the Blue Jackets have made the playoffs.
But Mason and Columbus could never recapture that fleeting success again. He fell to 20 wins and five shutouts the next season, and hasn’t had a winning record since he was a rookie. He bottomed out in 2011-12 with a 16-26-3 mark. Mason lost his job to eventual Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky, a former flyer, and was traded away by Columbus in April.
He called the last few years “extremely humbling.”
“You almost hit rock bottom in terms of the way you feel about yourself as a goaltender,” Mason said. “It got to the point in Columbus where I was struggling to find my confidence and also, struggling to come to the rink happy about playing hockey.”
Only 25, Mason appreciated a fresh start in Philadelphia. He instantly bonded with goalie coach Jeff Reese, and a 4-2 record with a 1.90 goals-against made him a hit with his teammates and management. He signed a $1.5 million, one-year extension shortly after the trade.
“I’m a big Steve Mason fan,” Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said. “I know there’s a short window that we got to watch him here, but he played very well. Even the game he lost, he played well.”
Holmgren has to add another goalie to play with Mason. But he expected the bulk of the playing time to be thrust on Mason. The Flyers went 23-22-3 and were 10th in the Eastern Conference with 49 points in this lockout-shortened season.
“I looked at coming to Philadelphia as a great new challenge,” Mason said. “Regardless of the length of Bryz’s contract, I was confident that if I played well, I was going to get an opportunity to play a lot of hockey games.”
There’s been a revolving door in net for Philadelphia for decades. They Flyers — and their fans — thought that was solved with Bryzgalov’s arrival. Perhaps Mason can finally take that honor.
“I was going to prepare myself this summer,” Mason said, “to have the mindset of being able to handle the pressures of playing in Philadelphia and the pressures of being a No. 1 goaltender again in this league.”
Bryzgalov was 52-33-10 with a 2.61 goals-against and a .905 save percentage in the two seasons for Philadelphia, which failed to make the playoffs this year. Bryzgalov’s quirky personality and sometimes brutal honesty with the media didn’t always endear him to teammates. But the Flyers say that didn’t factor into this decision.
Coach Peter Laviolette and Holmgren have each checked in with Mason this summer, though not since the trade.
“It was an extremely easy team to come into,” Mason said. “and feel welcomed.”
Example? Mason was invited along with captain Claude Giroux and other Flyers to play in Scott Hartnell’s charity golf tournament in Canada. That’s when word hit that Bryz was out — and Mason was in.
“It wasn’t a celebration,” Mason said. “It was, here’s an opportunity and go with it.”
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