Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hockey a real deal here

Veteran goaltender excited to play for Jets

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The birth certificate doesn't lie. And, for the record, Chris Mason isn't attempting to hide anything, anyway.

Yes, the Winnipeg Jets' goaltender is 35 years old. His first NHL game came back in 1998-99 while a good chunk of his current teammates still needed their parents to lace up their skates.

He's played for six pro teams in North America, including the Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and Atlanta Thrashers; wore Canada's colours at an IIHF world championship and even won MVP honours while leading Oslo-based Valerenga to a Norwegian league title during the 2004-05 NHL lockout.

So it stands to reason that the man has pretty much experienced just about all there is in the game.

Funny, then, to hear Mason -- as he has done since the NHL announced it was pulling up stakes in Atlanta and re-establishing roots in Winnipeg in late May -- continue to gush about the move like a teenage prospect suiting up for his first game.

And it became even more real Sunday night when Mason and his father arrived here after driving east from Red Deer, Alta.

"I just got a tour of the rink (Sunday) after I got into town and it's just so exciting," said Mason after an on-ice session with some local NHLers at the MTS IcePlex. "My dad was with me, too, and he got a chance to go see the room. We peeked in at the rink... it's just really exciting. Coming out today and skating here, too, and starting to see all the Jets' logos, the signs on the buildings downtown on Portage was pretty cool.

"Driving down Portage -- because you come right off the Trans-Canada and you go straight down by the practice rink here and you go by the MTS Centre -- and seeing all the signs on the buildings... it's like, 'Hockey is for real here.'"

That's been the theme of Mason's comments since May 31. Left in the dark by Thrashers' ownership while the team's future was being debated, Mason has been waving the pompoms about the league's return to Canada and to where the squad will be embraced by a full house every night.

He knows opening night against the Montreal Canadiens Oct. 9 will even give a battle-tested vet goosebumps.

"I can't wait. It's going to be amazing. It's historic to have the team come back. I was a boy and I dreamed of playing in Canada and playing in the NHL and it's still special to me. To be able to play in Canada and have somewhat of a maple leaf on your jersey is a dream come true.

"I'm just so excited to play in Canada. Some of the most passionate fans in the world are here. It's amazing that once the team was announced how many people that I've talked to in Red Deer are from Winnipeg and are huge Jets' fans and you start seeing all the Jets' hats -- the old stuff and the new stuff -- and it's just pretty awesome. It's everywhere.

"I think it's really refreshing and rejuvenating. I'm honoured to be a part of this team."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 23, 2011 D1

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