Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League

Saskatchewan’s Finest: Wings’ Mason loving life in Weyburn

(Photo Credit to Megan Ebel Photgraphy)

(Article written and produced by Jamie Neugebauer)

Don’t ever say Weyburn Red Wings assistant coach Willy Mason was ‘just’ a fighter.

Sure, the former Estevan Bruin and Weyburn Red Wings forward had 337 penalty minutes in 58 regular season games, and a whopping 108 PIMs in just nine playoff games during the 1999-2000 Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League campaign. Still, he never considered himself ‘just an enforcer’.

“I was always a team player,” he says.

“Not everyone enjoys fighting, so if anyone took liberties with any of my teammates I had no problem stepping in and doing that. But I could also play, I could play the game, so sticking up for my teammates was kind of how I was brought up, but I always worked to get some points on the board before I got into any of that ‘stuff’”.

Fair enough: Mason also was a point-per-game player over his 129-game SJHL career.

Born and raised in Whitehorse, Yukon to a family of boxers, Willy moved south to play as a 15-year-old and spent time in the Western Hockey League with the Calgary Hitmen, as well as in the British Columbia Hockey League with Prince George and Langley.

“Honestly when I was playing in the WHL I’m not even sure I knew what the WHL was,” he says with a laugh.

“Things in the north have changed a lot over the years compared to when I was coming through. You know, we would do like one or two tournaments a year from being from the north there, and I don’t know, I just had some good coaches in my Minor Hockey that had good connections, and, you know, one thing led to another. They helped my parents make some decisions there.”

He arrived in Saskatchewan in 1998, went on to meet his future wife Kellie, a Weyburn native, and has hardly left since.

After a pro stint in Oklahoma in 2001, Willy, Kellie, and their young daughter Sierra were intending to head to Mason’s home in the Yukon when he was offered a communications job, and a spot on a Senior team in Weyburn.

Their son Ty was born in 2005, and quickly developed into an elite hockey player, often under the coaching of his dad. Willy last helped him out in that capacity during the Covid-shortened 20-21 U18AAA season while the younger Mason was part of the Estevan Bears but took a step back to ‘just’ hockey dad when Ty made the jump as a 16-year-old for his hometown Red Wings.

Ty played in 107 games for Weyburn and contributed 80 points while helping the club to a playoff spot last season.

“Ty grew up watching the Wings his whole life,” Willy says.

“We’ve had billets since he was seven years old, so he’s always looked up to the Wings. For him to get an opportunity to play at home and, do his thing here and be involved in the community and maybe be the face of the Wings a little bit at the time when he was here, you know, we couldn’t ask for anything else.”

While the younger Mason was playing in Saskatchewan, Willy elected to maintain an appropriate distance, although his constant presence at the rink, and knowledge and enthusiasm for the game did not go unnoticed by Wings head coach and general manager Cody Mapes.

When it became apparent that Ty was to move on, Mapes approached Mason about jumping on the bench as an assistant in the off-season.

“I spoke with my wife about it and she encouraged me to do it because she knows how much of a passion I have for it,” Willy says.

“It’s been awesome. It’s been an adjustment for sure, all I have coached before was minor hockey, and moving into the junior here, you’re working with young adults. So, just getting to know them, learning how each of them operates and learning from (fellow assistant coach Kevin Saworski) and Cody, they’ve been great mentors on that side. For me, it’s just kind of been chiming in whenever I can and, you know, they always look for my input. I am just trying to work with each guy individually to get to know them and help them in any way that I can, and that is the main focus this year for me. It has been excellent, we have a great group of guys, the staff, the team, all of it. It’s been fantastic for me.”

The Masons still live in Weyburn where Kellie works at a window fabrication store as a sales associate. Ty has gone on to play for the Brooks Bandits of the British Columbia Hockey League and won the gold medal with Team Canada West at the 2023 World Junior A Challenge. Sierra owns her own hair salon in Weyburn, while their youngest daughter Ayva is in social work at the University of Regina.