Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mason a proven stand-in winner

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Dependable goaltending is a must for all NHL teams, but for bubble clubs like the Winnipeg Jets it takes a little more.

The combination of Ondrej Pavelec and Chris Mason can't just be good enough to give their team a chance to win -- they need to push the Jets over the top into the winning side of the ledger more often than not.

The Jets make mistakes older, more polished teams don't, and the guy in the net needs to bail them out more often than anyone would like. It's part of having a young group that is talented but at times a little careless about the defensive side of the game.

Goaltending has to be a strength for the Jets and often is the backbone of their victories.

Pavelec has been brilliant in 11 of the Jets' 15 wins while appearing in 27 games so far. More often than not, if the Jets walk out of the building with two points, Pavelec will have been named one of the game's stars.

Hands down, to this point in the season, Pavelec is the MVP. But no goalie can play every night, and even if Pavelec were to play 65 games, there would still be 17 left on the schedule and they just can't be written off.

The Jets' margin for error is very slim if they're going to be a playoff team, and there can't be a letdown when Mason's number gets called. He needs to step in and pick up right where Pavelec leaves off.

Such was the case Saturday night as Mason went in for just his eighth game of the season and stopped 33 of 36 shots to lead the Jets to a 5-3 win when they were outshot by five at home against the Anaheim Ducks.

"It's a tough job. It's a tough task. The thing when you watch Chris Mason, and I had him years ago when he was younger, is he's a battler," said Jets coach Claude Noel. "You can see it in his game. As this game wore on and the level of the game rose, so did his play. He made some key saves at key times and he looked like he could see everything. I thought he did a real good job."

Mason now owns a 4-2 record and entered Saturday's game with a 2.08 goal- against average and a .911 save percentage. When Noel has given him the net, he's been vicious in his defence of the goal line.

"You say backup goalies, but when you're playing, it's not like in football, where the backup quarterback doesn't play. When it's your turn, you're starting, and those games are worth two points and equally important," Mason said.

The 35-year-old Red Deer, Alta., native says he understands and accepts his current position, even if he doesn't altogether like it.

"It's tough and you don't like doing it, but it's my role and I'll do whatever I have to do," he said.

Mason isn't just important the one game he plays every 10 days or so. He's a major factor in the Jets dressing room on a daily basis.

"He always seems to be ready because he comes to work every day and busts his ass. He's one of our best leaders, and that probably gets overlooked. He knows what it takes to win, and he's a sounding board for everyone in here," captain Andrew Ladd said.

Hard work is great, but in the end it's the results that people remember, and Mason is pulling his weight in that regard.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 18, 2011 B3

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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