By Mike Fornabaio
SHELTON, Conn. — This didn’t start out like the season when David Masse would establish himself as a full-time AHL player. At the end of November, Masse was a healthy scratch for five out of six Bridgeport Sound Tigers games and had but three points, both back on opening weekend. Was the old knock true? Was Masse, 23, just one-dimensional, not a complete enough player?
“I had to do something about it,” said Masse, who had 66 points (22g=44a) and 159 penalty minutes in 78 regular season games and 16 points (7g-9a) and 22 penalty minutes in 21 Kelly Cup Playoff games for the Reading Royals in 2003-05. “I couldn’t just say I’m going to try in a game. That’s not good enough.”
The Montreal native rededicated himself to his work ethic. Coach Dave Baseggio, who began his professional coaching career as an assistant coach with the Charlotte Checkers in 2000-01, kept him in the lineup and chanced into one of the longest-running line combinations in team history. And now, with goals in the past three games and a lineup spot in 48 consecutive games, Masse has become an integral part of the Sound Tigers.
“He’s more of a complete player than people give him credit for,” Baseggio said. “He’s proved that the last little while. He’s been responsible defensively.”
There’s still room for improvement, but he’s come along at both ends. Masse has 20 points in the past 29 games, since early January, boosting his totals to 15 goals and 27 points in 62 contests.
“David should get 20 for us,” Baseggio said. “Considering he was in and out of the lineup all through the middle of November, it’s a pretty good accomplishment for him. He’s been really good at both ends.”
Masse spent most of last year, and part of the year before, with Hershey, with some offensive success. He also spent time in the ECHL with Reading, with lots of offensive success, much like his years in Canadian junior hockey. He scored 50 goals and 98 points in his final year in the QMJHL. That was slow to develop here after he signed an AHL contract with the Sound Tigers this summer, even though working out with ex-Hershey Bear Bruce Richardson got him in good shape. Masse received limited ice time for a while.
Then on Dec. 21, the pivotal day of this season in Bridgeport, Baseggio assembled a line with Masse on the right, Masi Marjamaki on the left and Matt Koalska in the middle. Bridgeport won the game over high-flying Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and the line was together almost every even-strength shift for the next three months.
“I wish I could say I had that vision in mind when I put them together,” Baseggio said. “It’s gone beyond my wildest expectations. It was the right time and the right place, and all three guys took the ball and ran.”
The line clicked like few others have in Bridgeport’s five-season history. It was only disassembled last weekend out of dire necessity. All three players got stronger. “I’m always with Matty off the ice,” Masse said. “We all get along together. We talk like it’s just after work.”
When Masse first came to the U.S. from Quebec, talking was a dicey proposition. He got to Hershey not knowing much English; he’d taken it in school but, he said, didn’t do well. He had help in Hershey with players like Eric Perrin, Mathieu Darche and Andre Savage. When he was assigned to Reading, though, no one spoke French. He was on his own. “It was a new challenge, going to another culture, speaking English,” Masse said. “I wasn’t that good in school in English.”
Masse would tell people he didn’t speak English, and he says a lot of people assumed he was joking. Masse lives with Evgeny Tunik, a Russian forward who’s in his first year in North America. Masse tries to help Tunik out where he can, but “he knows more than I did,” Masse said.
His English has come along fine, much like his game this season.
“I think he always had skill. I think he’s gotten better away from the puck,” Baseggio said. “He’s a lot better doing a lot of little things, so he doesn’t put himself in difficult situations.” “Along the same lines as (Sean) Bergenheim,” Baseggio added, “he knows when he can be creative, and also when not to.”