Chris Mason enjoyed his first year in Europe so much that he’s heading back in two weeks time.
Different country, though. Mason, his wife Courtney and their two young daughters will be off to Germany after the Red Deer minor hockey product guarded the net of the Ritten Renon Trucks in the Italian Hockey League First Division last winter.
Mason will suit up with the Augsburger Panther of the top German League for the 2014-15 season and is hoping that the experience will rival that of his year in Italy. As he admitted, the experience was everything he anticipated, and more. Really, how could it have gone any better? The Trucks, with the 38-year-old former NHL netminder playing a major role, won the prestigious Italian Cup and then the league championship.
What Mason wasn’t expecting was precisely how fast the game is played in Italy’s premier league.
“The calibre of play was a lot better than I thought it would be,” he said Friday, after playing in the Sutter Fund Charity Golf Classic at River Bend. “The teams each have eight or nine imports and most have some American League and NHL experience. It was a great year hockey-wise.”
While Mason excelled on the ice — posting a 27-8-0 record with a 2.18 goals-against average and .927 save percentage — he also enjoyed life away from the rink.
“The lifestyle was amazing,” he insisted. “Ritten is a mountain town . . . literally, it’s 30 minutes up a mountain and is probably the most beautiful place I’ve seen in my life. It’s actually three to four small towns, and people live a simple life. It’s a self-sustaining place where the people grow and raise all of their food.
“The town is in Italy but it’s a German-speaking place an hour from the Austrian border. Before World War II it was part of Austria and that part of the world was given to Italy at the end of the war. It’s predominantly a German area. My daughter (eight-year-old Avery) went to a German-speaking school and learned the language. It was awesome.”
And now he’s moving on to what should be another superb European adventure.
“I was approached about playing in Germany during the season. The Augsburger coach and general manager watched a bunch of our games and asked if I was interested in playing for his team,” said Mason. “I told him I’d have to wait until the season was over to decide.
“We came home to Red Deer and talked about it and thought that it would be great to do one more year overseas. We’re going to a city of under 300,000 people. There’s an international school so it will be all English-speaking. That was important for our decision, to have that for Avery, our oldest daughter. I also want to play one more year at a top level.”
One year from now, Mason will likely be preparing to go to work with the Nashville Predators, the team he played for during the majority of his nine-year NHL career. He also spent two seasons with the St. Louis Blues and one winter with each of the Atlanta Thrashers and Winnipeg Jets.
Mason, whose other daughter is two-year-old Quinn, will serve as either an ambassador with the Predators or with the club’s radio play-by-play team, as a colour man.
“That the tentative plan. I have that option to work with the Predators next year,” he said. “I’ll either be back here or in Nashville.
“(Former assistant coach) Brent Peterson does colour for the radio broadcast and if he wants to do it again in a year’s time then he’ll keep the position. If he wants to move on that position might be there for me.”
Mason is no stranger to a microphone.
“Working in broadcasting is definitely something I’d like to try,” he said. “I did a lot of that stuff when I played in Nashville. We would do on the bench things and spend time on the air with both TV and radio. It’s something I felt was worth exploring.”
Regardless of whether he gets the full-time radio gig, the former WHL star with the Prince George Cougars (1994-97) will get some time on the air.
“I’ll be filing in for radio and TV and I’ll also be working charity events . . . . stuff along those lines,” he said. “I’ve talked to the Predators this summer, but nothing has been decided yet.”
— The Sutter Fund tournament, which has raised millions of dollars for Central Alberta charities since 1996, was another huge success this year.
Among the items raffled off following the post-tournament dinner at the Black Knight Inn was a trip to Israel, which was purchased for $17,000.