Philadelphia Flyers goalie Steve Mason showcased a superb performance during training camp. He clearly outshined goalie Michal Neuvirth, who had been playing in the World Cup of Hockey for Team Czech Republic. Both goalies, however, are a source of strength on the current Flyers roster.
“To go into it where we’re comfortable with both guys taking a big load of the season, it’s huge for us,” General Manager Ron Hextall told reporters.
“You see what happens around the league. Guys get hurt. Guys have down periods. When you have two guys that are both capable of being No. 1s, they can actually pick each other up. You hope there is a little bit of drive from within to keep the net. It’s a good situation for us.”
Hextall knows he has depth in the goalie position. There is only enough room for one starting goalie, though, and at the end of the season, both goalies are free agents. Either Mason or Neuvirth will be offered a long-term contract with a hefty price tag. The other will receive back-up pay, or he can sign for a starting position elsewhere.
Since his early arrival to training camp, Mason has been very aware there is genuine competition in net this season, not just for the starter’s job, but for his next contract. “I’m sure people would love to bring it up over the course of the year, us both being in a contract year and pushing one another,” he told reporters following a training camp session.
“But to be honest, I just have to focus on myself and play the best I can when I’m in the net. Focus on that and the rest will take care of itself.”
Mason hit a rough patch in the middle of the playoffs last April, which allowed Neuvirth to shine. He posted an astounding 0.67 goals-against average and 0.981 save percentage in just three games.
Neuvirth took over starting with Game 4 of the playoffs against the Capitals, a game in which the Flyers were on the brink of elimination.
He kept them afloat and the Flyers pushed to Game 6. “What happened last year, happened,” Neuvirth said. “It’s a new season, new chapter. Real excited to be part of the Flyers with a good team here. We can do some good things.”
The 2016-17 season brings a goalie competition within the Flyers organization. “Internal competition is always good,” Hextall told reporters. Furthermore, several of the Flyers who played in the World Cup of Hockey and said they were far ahead in training camp this year, physically and mentally, due to the tournament play.
Ironically, Mason, who didn’t play in the tournament, had a stronger preseason than Neuvirth, who often kept the Czech team afloat. Still, with one game each under their belts so far this season, there’s no clear indication of who will win the battle for the crease.
“I realize what kind of important position for myself I am in this coming season,” Mason told Today’s Slapshot. “I want to have a great year. I will only focus on my job and not on Michal’s job. That would just complicate things.”
Mason and Neuvirth are comfortable with the competition. Both seem relaxed and ready to start the season.
“It definitely is a special year for the organization,” he continued. “There’s a ton of history. Everybody who comes through the doors here are proud to put on that sweater and represent some of the history that has been part of this franchise for so long. We’d like to make this a special year.”