Steve Mason isn’t in a class by himself. It just seems that way.
He is the oldest player on Miami University’s hockey team, one of six seniors on the roster. Five are regulars when the RedHawks hit the ice each weekend in their quest for a national championship.
Mason mostly watches the action on a television screen. He hasn’t dressed for a game since Jan. 12.
“I try not to even worry about it because the team’s rolling right now,” Mason said. “If they need me, I’ll step in and play my hardest. At this point, I just want to be a good teammate and be positive around the dressing room and be the old guy that plays a leadership role.”
He’s played in 10 games this season. Maybe he won’t play again. Nobody can say for sure, not even the man who makes out the lineup, MU coach Enrico Blasi.
Mason, a 5-foot-11, 178-pound forward, will keep battling in practice every day, playing his role. And if the team wins a title, he’ll be just as happy as everybody else.
“All you can do is just make everyone else better around you,” Mason said. “At the end of the day, if we win a championship, everyone gets a ring. No one’s name is on there. It’s just going to say Miami.”
He is a bit of a world traveler. That, along with the fact that he’s 25 years old, makes him view things with more of an experienced eye.
Mason spent his early years in Tilburg, Netherlands. It was just a starting point.
“My dad’s Canadian, and he went over to Europe to play hockey,” Mason said. “That’s where he met my mom, and she’s Dutch. They got married there, and I was born there and lived there for the first 13 years of my life.
“My dad was already a coach, so we kind of moved around with him. I lived in Switzerland for three years, in Germany for two years. I even lived in Italy for a year. Then when I was 18, I went to play juniors in Canada.”
He came to Miami and only played in seven games as a freshman and as a junior. Mason saw action in 24 games as a sophomore.
This year, he’s been a scratch more than an active player. The RedHawks are stocked with highly regarded freshmen and sophomores. Mason has essentially been engulfed by the depth chart.
“Our job is to recruit and try to better our team, so if we’re doing our jobs, that’s going to be the case sometimes,” Blasi said. “Steve’s been very respectful and professional in the way he’s handled a tough situation. He’s always got a smile on his face. It’s not like it’s awkward when you’re around him.”
The young guys play. He doesn’t. Mason gets it. He’s naturally not excited about it, but he gets it.
“I don’t think jealous is the right word,” Mason said. “They’re good guys and good players. I mean, I’m a good player too, but we’re just battling against each other. It’s whoever the coaches feel can get the job done. I’m fine with that.
“We have a pretty good team defense, so battling on Tuesday against our defensemen, it kind of is a game day. You’re out there battling your ass off, so it’s the same as a game. It’s not like I’m getting a lack of battle.”
He started playing hockey when he was 3. The game was a natural fit for him. His father, Doug, played for many years and then moved into coaching. He’s currently coaching the Iserlohn Roosters in Germany.
Steve played other sports as well — baseball, tennis, soccer. Eventually he decided to focus on hockey, which isn’t a huge sport in the Netherlands.
“There’s only like 15 rinks in the whole country,” Mason said. “Their big sport is soccer. They live and die for that.”
He’s been so many places that it’s hard to call anywhere home. Hockey players often follow that type of path, but Mason takes it to the extreme.
His parents live in Germany while his father is coaching. They have a house in Wasaga Beach, Ontario, for the offseason.
“I’ve lived in a lot of places,” said Mason, who conceded that coaching may not be for him. “It’s fun, but you don’t really have a home base to go back to. My hometown is in Holland, but I haven’t lived there since I was 13. That’s tough, but I feel very blessed to have had that kind of a life. It’s made me pretty diverse and aware of other cultures.
“Sometimes I miss Holland because it’s part of me. It’s a very different culture there. I think it’s more social because everything’s so close together. There’s little bike paths everywhere, and people bike to downtown areas and have a beer together and bike back. It’s almost a resort kind of feeling.
“Over Christmas, I actually went back. I hadn’t been there in like seven years, so it was kind of cool. I walked into the old rink where my old team was and said hi to some of the guys I played with. A lot of guys looked at me like they saw a ghost because I hadn’t seen them in so long. But it was cool to catch up with them.”
Here, with graduation looming, Mason is working daily with the RedHawks. They’re ranked third in the country and host Michigan State in a second-round Central Collegiate Hockey Association series this weekend.
Mason was recognized on Senior Night about two weeks ago when MU defeated Ohio State to clinch the CCHA regular-season crown at Steve Cady Arena. He enjoyed the pregame skate and raised his stick to the crowd. Then he left the ice, because he was a scratch.
Blasi said it was a tough call to keep Mason off the active roster that night.
“It’s hard. You want to play everybody, but you can only play 20,” the Miami coach said. “Whether it was right or wrong, that’s not for anybody to decide other than the coaching staff.”
Mason’s reaction: “Was it disappointing a little bit? Maybe, but it doesn’t really matter at this point. They’re the coaches, so if they want to put a team on the ice that they feel will win a championship, that’s just the way I take it. I want to be a part of a championship.”
He plans to settle down somewhere in North America. Maybe in the United States, maybe in Canada. He’d like to continue playing hockey when he leaves Oxford. He’s not sure if it will happen.
“Regardless, it’s been a good four years,” Mason said. “I don’t have any regrets at all. It’s been fun. We’ve won some championships. Hopefully we can get one more.”
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