Steve Mason brings fire to the crease

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By Tom Reed
The Columbus Dispatch

The goaltender’s crease has been a haven for eccentricity since the time of Glenn Hall raising a toilet seat before every game to spill his guts.

Jacques Plante knitted in the locker room. Gary Smith showered between periods. Gilles Gratton once refused to play because the moon was in the wrong part of the sky.

Blue Jackets goaltender Steve Mason doesn’t do quirky.

Mason burns hot, however, and he plays with an outward passion more often associated with forwards and defensemen.

“It’s unique for a goaltender to be as demonstrative as Steve,” general manager Scott Howson said. “That’s the competitor in him.”

Mason’s latest display occurred in a 4-3 shootout loss Tuesday to the Chicago Blackhawks. During the 11-round shootout, he punctuated several saves by looking to the bench, raising his arms and exhorting teammates to score.

“It’s a bit of (my personality) and a bit of being in the moment,” Mason replied in a text message. “Going that long in a shootout you want to win and emotions run high.”

After Brent Seabrook scored the winning goal, Mason whacked his stick against the wall in front of the Blue Jackets bench three times in frustration.

He stopped nine of 11 shots, including eight straight, but fell to 0-5 in shootouts this season.

“What are you going to do, get mad at a guy because he’s competitive?” coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We aren’t people who shop at the mall and happen to play hockey. I would rather have it that way than the other way where the guy is docile.”

The goaltending position has had its share of fiery characters the likes of Billy Smith and Ron Hextall. But the goaltender isn’t usually among the fieriest players on the team.

The Jackets have a quiet locker room filled with players possessing long fuses. Mason is a departure from previous Blue Jackets goaltenders such as Fredrik Norrena, who internalized angst, and Pascal Leclaire, who could dance to Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean the morning after surrendering four goals to Detroit.

Mason, 21, shows his emotions and speaks his mind. After a 9-1 loss Nov. 11 to Detroit, he was candid in his assessment of the team’s play and how the Jackets’ bright start to the season masked flaws.

He also has been quick to accept responsibility for surrendering soft goals like the one that doomed the Jackets in a 2-1 loss Nov. 26 to Ottawa.

Last season’s NHL rookie of the year, Mason has been working hard with goaltenders coach Dave Rook to regain his form.

Mason has a 9-6-5 record with a 3.35 goals-against average and an .892 save percentage. But in the past four games, he has a 2.40 goals-against average and .919 percentage.

“I have felt great the last (few games). I just haven’t got the results,” Mason said. “(Tuesday) night’s shootout was good for my confidence. The wins will come.”

In the past four days, Mason has practiced being more aggressive against shooters and closing the gap between himself and them as he backs into the crease in shootouts.

Mason was much sharper against the Blackhawks right up until the moment he went Paul Bunyan on the wall in front of the bench.

“It just goes back to Steve being a perfectionist,” Rook said. “There’s nothing wrong with that as long as he forgets it and moves on.”