Steve Mason was 4-2 with a 1.90 GAA in seven games for the Flyers last year. (AP)
Ron Hextall said it first. Peter Laviolette echoed it. And now, Steve Mason has admitted it too.
The starting goaltending job as Flyers training camp opened on Thursday is “a competition,” with nothing set in stone.
The job is up for grabs between Steve Mason, the short-term incumbent, and Ray Emery, the Stanley Cup veteran who is back here for a second stint with the Flyers.
“I’m not expecting anything,” Mason said. “Everything here has to be earned. That is exactly what I am going to go out and do. My goal here is to be the No. 1 guy. It’s going to be a great competition whether it plays out through camp or the start of the regular season.
“Our goal is to provide the Flyers with solid goaltending. That is what this summer was all about -- preparing for this situation. Here we are ready to go.”
Mason talked a bit over the summer to Emery after the Flyers signed him in July. Funny thing is, Mason and Flyers captain Claude Giroux were phone buddies for the past four years because they worked and trained at Tony Greco’s gym in Kanata, just outside Ottawa.
Mason says he feels like he’s starting to know Emery a bit through the conversations he’s had with Giroux and others, as well as his own interaction with him.
“I talked to guys Ray played with in Chicago and even guys he played with here,” Mason said. “He is a team-first guy with a great personality away from the rink to hang out with. Obviously a great goaltender as well. He had a heck of a year. He brings experience to this locker room.”
You’d have to go back to 2005 to find the last time the Flyers opened a camp where the No. 1 spot in goal was clearly up for grabs. Last season in Columbus, Sergei Bobrovsky was the newcomer who ultimately unseated Mason.
“Yeah, Sergei came into Columbus as the new guy, and I had been there for a while,” Mason said. “It’s kind of a different situation here. I am still considered the new guy and Ray is obviously new here this year.
“I have been through it once and learned a lot of things. This is a fresh opportunity to a new season and you want to start off on the right foot.
“When you are bringing in a goaltender who can play like Ray can, it’s healthy competition. We’re on the same team here, playing for the same goal. Whether Ray is in net or I am in net, we’re gonna support each other.”
Mason had a 1.90 goals-against average in seven games for the Flyers at season’s end. The way he handled the puck jump-started the defense. It was a breath of fresh air for the Flyers' banged-up blue line, where guys were pretty much coming in off the street to help out.
Now the defense is healthy, and with Mark Streit added to the roster there are three good puck movers in him, Erik Gustafsson and Kimmo Timonen.
“When I first got here, we had a lot of guys out with injury,” Mason said. “We had some key guys out with injury. So bringing in Mark, he brings a veteran presence as a captain before. He is a guy who can really get out of the zone fast with a good first pass.
“That is going to be a key to our transition game. Guys who are returning from last year and coming off injury healthy. That is going to help stabilize the back end. When I was here, we had some young bodies who did a great job filling in, but when you have a veteran presence back there, it is a little more calm.”
Being calm is something Mason says he had to work on himself under goalie coach Jeff Reese in the limited time he had after joining the Flyers at the trade deadline.
Given all he had gone through in Columbus -- as a former Calder Trophy winner (2009) who soared quickly then faded deep in the Blue Jackets background to the point where the organization felt it was best to cut ties -- you can understand why Mason was a bundle of nerves when he arrived in Philly.
Yet Mason played in net like a guy who didn’t have a care in the world. He performed like a seasoned veteran. He looked so good, it allowed the Flyers to feel at ease in jettisoning Ilya Bryzgalov.
“Coming to Philly at the deadline, I felt my game was starting to round the corner,” Mason said. “Working with Reeser (goaltending coach Jeff Reese) here, he took it to the next level. I got a sense of calm back into my game. I had strayed from that for a while. Knowing how to use it is a big thing.”
Which is why when the Flyers signed Emery, Mason said it didn’t jolt him or cause him to lose the confidence he had built up inside himself.
He was prepared.
“You always knew another goaltender was going to be brought in once Bryz got bought out,” Mason said.
“When that decision was made, it didn’t affect my frame of mind. My goal was to come in and be the No. 1 guy.
“That is the opportunity there right now. It could have been Ray or another free agent coming in. The goal was the same to be the No. 1 guy and earn that opportunity.”