C hris Mason certainly isn’t the first former Nashville Predator to come back home.
Greg de Vries, for instance, played briefly during the Predators’ inaugural season and returned for the last two seasons of his career in 2007-08 and 2008-09. Another example, Francis Bouillon, was picked up on waivers from Montreal for a brief stint in 2002-03 before Montreal reclaimed him. In 2009, Bouillon signed a deal with Nashville and played for the next 3 seasons before returning to Montreal.
No, Mason is not the first. However, he’s definitely the most prominent.
Mason was originally acquired by Nashville in a trade in 1998 before the season began. In that inaugural season, Mason would only suit up three times. He played four times over the next four seasons before leaving briefly to join the Florida Panthers organization. In 2003, the Predators reclaimed Mason and he appeared in 17 games for the Predators, picked up his first win and finally cracked the NHL roster for good. Over the following three seasons, Mason would appear in a total of 114 more games.
When Mason left the Predators in the summer of 2008 to join the St. Louis Blues, he had played in a grand total of 135 games in Nashville, won 58 with 12 shutouts and was the only Predators goaltender ever to score a goal in a game.
After two seasons in St. Louis, Mason returned south to the Atlanta Thrashers. However, the Thrashers soon packed up their bags and moved to Winnipeg. After a season in Winnipeg, Chris Mason was a free agent.
“To be honest, I was close to signing back with Winnipeg,” Mason said. ”Then the ordeal happened with (Ondrej) Pavelec where he was contemplating going back to Russia, so that got put on hold. At the end of that whole thing, it was one day before free agency, so I decided to put myself out there. I just thought at my age and at the position these guys are at right now and being familiar with the organization, the coaches and a lot of the players, it was just a great opportunity to try and win a Stanley Cup.”
After a four year absence, the Nashville Predators made their July 1st splash by signing a familiar name. Chris Mason was again a Nashville Predator.
“It feels awesome to be back in Nashville now that there’s hockey for real again,” Mason said. “Nashville is such a great organization to be a part of. I was ready and more than happy to jump at the opportunity to come back here.”
On the Saturday after the lockout had finally ended, Mason finally got to re-enter Bridgestone Arena and walk into the locker room in Nashville Predator.
“A lot has changed in here, but a lot is still the same,” Mason said. “A feeling I’ll never forget was walking back into this building. Bringing my bag back into this dressing room was pretty cool. I have a lot of great memories here and hopefully a lot more to come.”
Last season, Chris Mason mentioned that if he had the opportunity when his career ended, he would consider returning to Nashville. In fact, a return to Nashville was something he never could entirely rule out.
“It’s something that I would kind of think about,” Mason said. “You never really know what the circumstances are with the goaltender position – what’s going to happen when you become a free agent and that kind of stuff. This summer it really worked out and really looked at this as an opportunity to be on a team that has a chance to win the Stanley Cup.”
“This is an organization that gave me the opportunity to play in the NHL and achieve my dreams,” Mason added. “They believe in me and I definitely believe in the people here and feel honored to be a part of this organization again.”
For Mason, the team’s culture and his familiarity with the organization made the decision almost a no-brainer. After all, this player is the same player that bought season tickets in a low-demand section during the 2007-08 season in an effort to increase the attendance level and assist with keeping the team in town.
“I like the philosophy and the way they treat their players – they include families,” Mason said. “There’s just a feeling of comfort being a part of this team.”
In Mason’s first appearance in Nashville as an opposing goaltender, he racked up a 47-save overtime shutout for St. Louis on November 25, 2008. While his overall record against the Predators was less than stellar, his initial performance seemed to personify the hard-working reputation he earned in Nashville.
“There’s an attitude and aura that this organization has,” Mason said. “I know from playing against them that everyone says you have to be ready to work if you’re going to play the Nashville Predators. If you don’t, they’re going to jump all over you.”
One bit that differentiated Mason from so many other goaltenders was his popularity as an opponent. Of all of the opposing goaltenders to enter Bridgestone Arena, Mason is one of only two (former Predator Tomas Vokoun being the other) that have been known to have been temporarily exempted from crowd taunting. Mason was an exceptionally popular player during his original stint in Nashville.
“I love the fans here,” Mason said. “As much as it stung me, I loved when they jeered me when I was in St. Louis. That’s the beauty of sports – you cheer for your team no matter what. Even when I was on St. Louis, Atlanta and Winnipeg, they’ve always been great. I’ve always had a great relationship with the fans here. I love them. I’ve seen a few of them at the beginning of the year and throughout the last four months. It’s just great. I look forward to continuing that relationship.”
During the NHL lockout, Mason opted to stay close in town, practicing at A-Game in Cool Springs with a few other Predators who decided not to venture overseas.
“We skated four or five times a week in Franklin,” Mason said. “We trained and practiced like we were playing hockey. We kept that routine going. You never knew when it was going to end so everyone wanted to be ready. There were times when it got monotonous and tough to get your head into it, but for the most part we had a good group of 8 or 9 guys. Tim McAllister at A-Game put us through practices. It was awesome. We definitely made the best of it.”
As the lockout progressed, however, Mason began to realize that practicing alone might make him rusty and began to look for opportunities to get into game-shape.
“There were a couple of opportunities (to go overseas),” Mason said. “I was ready to pull the trigger around December, but I decided to wait. I just wanted to play games. There’s no replicating games. You can practice all you want, but the bottom line is that games are a different animal.”
“I have a family,” he continued. “I have two daughters – one’s just entering the first grade. I wasn’t really considering it the first couple of months. As it seemed like it might be coming to a resolution I decided to wait it out and see what happened after Christmas.”
Predators head coach Barry Trotz had to do a bit of a double-take when he walked through the locker room and saw Mason back in his old spot.
“When he’s retired and when I’m retired,” Trotz said, “someone will ask me who were my favorite players I have coached and Mase will be high on that list.”
“My list is going to get longer and longer as we go on, but in terms of a guy who is a great person, a good player, a Nashville Predator – Chris Mason will always be on that list.”
- Chris Mason: “This Place Will Always Hold A Special Place In My Heart”
Photo Credit: Paul Nicholson