PARDUBICE, Czech Republic – Corey Hirsch has been around goalies enough to know that Steve Mason is ready for the next step on the road to gold at the 2008 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Mason, who stars for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, got the nod Tuesday to start between the pipes for Canada's quarterfinal game on Wednesday against Finland.
Mason made 15 saves in Canada's 4-1 win over Denmark on Monday, and blanked Slovakia 2-0 in an earlier preliminary round game. The Oakville, ON native enters the game with a tournament-best .973 save percentage.
"He is a good kid and he is pretty normal as goalies go," says Hirsch, Hockey Canada's goaltending consultant. "He is very driven and very motivated."
Hirsch has an idea what will be going through Mason's mind leading up to the game against Finland.
Hirsch played for Canada at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Norway, where the Canadians weren't given much chance of making it to the medal round before Hirsch backstopped the Canadians to the gold medal final where they lost to Sweden in a shootout.
Hirsch knows a few things about playing under pressure.
"I talk to him (Mason) all the time," says Hirsch. "He knows all he can do is do his job as well as he can. He can't score goals and all he can do is stop the other team from scoring."
Hirsch has nothing special in mind when it comes to preparing Mason for what will undoubtedly be the biggest game to date of his very promising career.
"We will work on some very basic things, keep it simple and just get back to basics," he says.
The 19-year-old Mason had been alternating starts with Jonathan Bernier up until now, and Hirsch says the coaching staff has confidence in both netminders.
"We feel we have two NHL caliber goalies," he says.
Hirsch also spent some time working with Bernier during Tuesday’s practice in the event he has to come off the bench.
Hirsch says Bernier has rebounded after a disappointing 4-3 loss to Sweden and Bernier knows he wasn't to blame for the loss that snapped Canada's 20-game winning streak at the World Juniors.
"He knows he may have to come in and he's ready," said Hirsch.
Mason was taken in the third round (69th overall) of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets, and started this season on Columbus’ roster, although he never saw any game action.
He was returned to London by the Blue Jackets on October 9th, and has a 19-4-1 record through 26 games this season.
"His puck-handling ability is huge," said Hirsch when asked what he liked about Mason. "His size, his mobility. He is quite effective."
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