Like every other kid who is raised north of the border, Chris Mason grew up playing hockey in his hometown of Red Deer, Alta. The Nashville Predators goaltender first laced up skates at age six and took his game between the pipes five years later when attending a hockey school in Penticton, BC.
Red Deer, a town Mason labels as “blue collar,” is also where his wife, Courtney, grew up. Despite only getting the chance to go back during the summer to visit their families, Red Deer will always be considered home to the Masons.
Their second home? Without a doubt, it’s Nashville.
“On top of being a great city, it’s a great place to play and a great team to be a part of,” said Mason.
Of his 306 career NHL games, Mason has played 135 contests for the Predators. Moreover, 10 of his 16 professional seasons have been spent in the Predators’ organization. When/if the 2012-13 season begins (don’t hold your breath), it will officially be Mason’s third stint with the franchise.
Mason signed a one-year contract with the Predators in July, completing the ‘transaction hat trick’ with the team. In 1998, he was traded to Nashville from Anaheim. In 2003, he was claimed off waivers by GM David Poile and company.
“I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about Nashville. Any chance I’ve had to come back here, whether by choice or trade or waivers, I’ve jumped at the opportunity,” said Mason.
Mason and his wife were able to start to raise a family during his second stint with the Predators, as their daughter, Avery (now six), was born in Nashville. Since then, though, the Masons have jumped around the continent. After an off-season trade from Nashville to St. Louis in 2008, they have gone from St. Louis to Atlanta to Winnipeg in a four-year span – but gravitated back to Music City this summer.
“This is somewhere my wife and I have talked about staying when hockey is all said and done for me,” Mason said. “I’ve lived all over – Franklin, Brentwood, downtown – and have experienced quite a bit of the city. The people here, how the organization treats everybody – it’s just a great place.”
The Masons also have a one-year-old daughter, Quinn. Due to the ongoing lockout, Mason has spent a lot more time at home than he ever would if a season were currently in session. He says it’s a silver lining of this disappointing time in hockey.
“The uncertainty – it sucks. I’m sitting at home wishing I was playing hockey,” he said of the lockout. “The flip side of that is I’ve had a lot of family time I wouldn’t have otherwise had. I’ve been able to spend a lot of time at my daughter’s school. And my one-year-old, the daddy day care – I get an appreciation for what my wife goes through.”
As the lockout has essentially put the season on the brink, with a cancellation announcement potentially coming in December, Mason did hint that he is starting to think about playing overseas. It’s not a thought that had entered his mind just a month or two ago, but the 36-year-old netminder is itching to return to game action.
“There’s going to come a point where I’m going to have to go play some games to try and stay in the league,” he said. “We’ve been working hard here, but you can only do this so much. You just can’t simulate games. I’m going to have to try and go play games somewhere, whether it’s here or if a team overseas needs a goalie.”
During the 2004-05 lockout, Mason played 20 games in Norway. However, the family situation is different for him this time around. With a wife and two young daughters at home, it would be tough emotionally for Mason to leave Nashville in the near future.
“My family has talked about it. In my situation, I feel I need to play games. If they canceled the season I’d try to play somewhere for sure,” he said.
“I went to play in a charity game in Winnipeg last week and it was tough to leave for just three days. I’ve been able to be home all summer and the last three months, so I’ve been fortunate to have that time. Having said that, I can’t wait to get back to playing hockey.”
Like every other NHL player, Mason hopes there is NHL hockey to look forward to before the 2012/13 campaign is wiped out.
It would mean he would be reunited with Predators goaltenders coach Mitch Korn.
“Mitch is one of my closest friends and confidants in hockey … Not only has he helped me in my career but he’s been a great friend off the ice,” said Mason.
It would mean he would be reunited with head coach Barry Trotz.
“Everyone sees him on TV back home and they’re like, ‘Hey, what is Barry Trotz like? He must be really mean. He’s always scowling and has that mad look on his face.’ That couldn’t be farther from the truth. He’s a true competitor but is one of the nicest men I’ve ever met in my life,” said Mason.
It would mean he would get to don a Predators sweater for the third time in his career. It would mean he would get to spend extra time with his family that he obviously wouldn’t have if he were playing overseas. It would mean he could continue to grab breakfast once a week at Noshville Deli, his favorite spot in Nashville.
It would mean he would get to play hockey at home – his second home, that is.
“Nashville has always held a special place in my heart.”