W hen Ryan Suter returns to Bridgestone Arena on Saturday night as a member of the Minnesota Wild, he’ll be entering the building that served as his home rink for the first seven seasons of his NHL career.
It’s a game that has been anticipated since Suter signed with the Wild last July and very few have a general idea of what to expect.
Predators goaltender Chris Mason might be one of the few who do.
Mason played the first 135 games of his NHL career in net for the Nashville Predators. After the 2008 season, he was traded for a draft pick to the St. Louis Blues, the Predators’ Central Division foe. That meant that his new team would be facing his former team 6 times during the course of the regular season.
Thus, on November 25, 2008, the inevitable happened – Mason came back to Nashville and lined up in net at the then-Sommet Center against his former team.
While Mason’s 47-save shutout performance in his return is what most will remember, Mason remembers most dealing with the emotions and memories returning to the building.
“Honestly, that was probably one of the weirdest feelings I’ve ever had coming to a rink, coming to a game and preparing the night before,” Mason said. “I remember walking into the rink that day and it was just an awkward, weird feeling coming into the building.”
“At that point it was the only team I had ever played for, just like (Suter) now,” Mason continued. “You go into the other dressing room and you get all of those memories flashing back of when you played here – the feeling of coming into the game and walking into the rink. It was really weird. The game actually ended up going really well for me, but before the game, it was a really taxing day. There was so much preemptive thinking about that day and all that stuff went into it. It was mentally draining.”
Perhaps the most uncomfortable part of the day to Mason was running into people whose names and faces he knew – a feeling that Ryan Suter has also expressed.
“Saying ‘hi’ to all of the security guards and familiar faces and looking on the other side of the rink and you see all of your old friends, guys that you played with and built relationships with and your coach – it’s just really an uncomfortable, weird kind of feeling,” Mason said.
On that night, the Predators peppered Mason and St. Louis with 47 shots, while St. Louis only managed 17. Nevertheless, not a single puck made it past Mason and the Blues managed to hang on to beat the Predators in a shootout.
“Honestly, I felt good anyway,” Mason said. “I had a game before that I felt pretty good in and I came and just kind of carried it over. It was just one of those games where you’re just in a different realm. It came out pretty good and we ended up winning in overtime. I’ll never forget that feeling I had and that game as well.”
With Suter’s return, there has been much debate and speculation over whether or not the Predators would show a tribute video. Earlier this season, they showed one for former Predators Jordin Tootoo and Steve Sullivan when they returned to Bridgestone Arena. In the past, the Predators have also former players such as Tomas Vokoun, Scott Walker, Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell and Joel Ward. Mason was one such player that was honored.
“I honestly don’t remember the tribute video,” Mason Said. “I was like in a different planet. I didn’t even think that they did one. The only time they would have done it is during a timeout, and I usually just go to the bench and try to catch my breath and look at the bench. I don’t really look at the screen until I go back to the net. Honestly, I don’t remember that.”
Despite the emotional luggage that the day delivered, Mason said that the game itself lifted most of the pressure.
“Once the game starts, that feeling kind of disappears,” Mason said. “It goes away. Kind of like the first game of every season, I feel really nervous and then about 5-10 minutes in, it just disappears and you play hockey again. It was the same then. At the first little bit when I saw Tootoo coming down the wing and Shea (Weber) back at the point, it was just weird.”
Photo Credit: Sarah Fuqua