Chris Mason will not be starting in goal for the Winnipeg Jets against the Nashville Predators on Saturday night, but that does not diminish the visit any less.
Mason has played to Bridgestone Arena fans in many other occasions as a member of the St. Louis Blues, Atlanta Thrashers…and, of course, the Nashville Predators. The Red Deer native appeared in games for the Predators from the team’s inaugural season in 1998 until 2008.
Although he spent a brief time in the Panthers organization in 2002-03 before the Predators reclaimed him, Mason’s first 135 career NHL games were played in a Predators uniform.
For Mason, every time he returns, the scenery changes.
“It is different,” Mason said. The longer you stay away, it gets a little different. Some of the faces on the other side change, but I always get the same feeling when I come back to Nashville. This was my home for a lot of years and I still feel a very close connection to Nashville.”
To add to his sentiments about Nashville, Mason reveals that he still has thoughts on coming back permanently.
“This is somewhere where my family might settle after hockey,” Mason said.
To Mason, Nashville’s fanbase is part of what makes the city extraordinary to him.
“When I first came back, they were pretty harsh,” Mason said laughingly. “I had a great relationship with the fans in Nashville. I loved them and I always say to people how nice, respectful and good-hearted the people of Nashville are. To this day, they remember my name and always say hi to me when I come back in the building. I appreciate that interaction.”
Saturday night will be different not just for Mason, but for the entire Winnipeg Jets organization. The Predators organization has been directly marketing ticket sales towards Atlanta Thrashers fans after the city’s franchise packed up and moved to Winnipeg.
Due to the ticket sales for Saturday’s game being marketed directly to Thrashers fans, there may be a decent contingent of Thrashers jerseys in the crowd.
“We’ve had a fairly good following of Jets fans this year wherever we went, but this might be a different being so close to Atlanta,” Mason said. “We’ll probably see a lot of Thrashers jerseys in the stands. It’ll probably be happy and sad to see all of the Thrashers fans. I know they loved the team there. I was only there for a year, but in hockey, you’re fortunate enough to have a good relationship to your fans, so it will be special in that regard.”
In a game not remotely short on storylines, Mason will also be present for the Nashville return of his former teammate Alexander Radulov.
“I played with Radulov and I always thought he would be back,” Mason said. ‘Whether you agree with it or disagree with it – I don’t think anyone was too happy at the time with his decision – knowing him, I always felt he would be back at some point.”
Mason will not be in goal and indicated that part of that may have to do with a certain member of the coaching staff knowing him a little too well.
“I think guys are so good and there’s so much video now that it’s tough to gauge,” Mason said. “Mitch (Korn) knows me well and he’s really good at breaking down video…When you’re going up against goalies, it’s really probably the same recipe for every goalie in the league. You have to get traffic, but I’m sure there’s extra little things and strengths and weaknesses that he’s able to break down on me.”
In the end though, Mason will take the time to enjoy his brief return to the city that gave him a leg up on his NHL career.
“This place will always hold a special place in my heart,” Mason said.