The first thing Chris Mason did after signing with the Thrashers as a free agent was buy a piece of team merchandise.
A new hat was in order. The goaltender immediately put the lid on his shaved head after an on-ice workout last week with some of his new teammates at the Thrashers practice facility.
“You have to change your allegiance,” said Mason, who spent the past two seasons with St. Louis after stints with Nashville and Florida. The 34-year-old signed a two-year contract as an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
Mason took up temporary housing upon arriving in town early last season, eager to get to work and get to know his new teammates. Mason, who dresses in the stall once occupied by Johan Hedberg, is one of several key off-season acquisitions by the Thrashers.
“I think it takes a little time,” Mason said of getting acclimated to a new locker room. “There are a lot of us in the same situation. Basically, you have to come in and be yourself. Hockey guys are such good guys and it’s easy. Everybody so far as been great and welcoming and it’s easy to pretty easy to walk in. Everyone makes you feel so comfortable that it’s not to difficult. With a lot of us being on the same path it will be easy and guys will click and get to know each other.”
Mason said he is looking forward to getting the season started. The sooner it starts, the sooner he and teammates can set about changing the fortunes of a franchise that has made the playoffs once in its history and has yet to win a postseason game.
“I think for everybody it’s a challenge,” Mason said. “You want to break that ground. You want to establish a team that’s taken seriously. Last year, I think they made good strides. They were in the playoff hunt until the last little bit. That’s really important. It’s a challenge. I think everybody has to take it personal to get this team where it wants to be – get into the playoffs and win. For me, personally, you take it as a challenge to help this team move forward and make the playoffs.”
Along with new teammates, Mason will be getting to know a new coaching staff. He is already quite familiar with one – goaltending consultant Clint Malarchuk. Mason played for the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage while in the Panthers system and Malarchuk was the goaltender coach. Mason welcomes the reunion – and the extra set of eyes.
“If you have a goalie coach, it’s another set of eyes that specializes in that position,” Mason said. “When they know your game, they can see when you are off a little bit – just little things that they can see that you may not notice when you are out there playing. He’s kind of the eye in the sky. We usually watch video together and go over games. It’s good to have another set of eyes and ears. I know Clint and he’s such a good guy and he can relate to the ups and downs that goalies go through. I’m really excited that he’s here.”
Mason and Ondrej Pavelec will be the Thrashers goaltending tandem next season. Once training camp starts next month the other four goalies under contract will be on the ice.
“I’ve already talked to Pavs quite a bit,” Mason said. “I’m looking forward to playing with him. He’s a really nice guy. I just enjoy being friends with all the guys. I love talking to goalies, young and old. I love the position. I love watching guys. I’m just going to be myself and get to know the guys. By all means, if they have anything they want to ask me. I’ll be asking them questions because I love to learn. There are always new techniques that guys are bringing into the game. I want to have good relationships with all of them.”
* I’m planning to be at IceForum on Thursday to catch up with some other players that have reported for voluntary workouts. I’ll see if there is any news and we’ll gather some more blog fodder. I don’t think any of the former Blackhawks are there yet, but let me know if there is anyone in particular you would like to hear from.