The Monster’s Heart Still in It

TORONTO– It’s fair to say that G Jonas Gustavsson’s sophomore season is one he would like to put behind him.

He was only able to win six of his 23 appearances with the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 2010/11 season, going 6-13-2 with a 3.29 GAA and .890 SV%. After being demoted to the Marlies in early February, he played well but turned a two week “conditioning stint” into a month long ride when he had his third heart ablation surgery performed in the last two years. And finally, upon returning to the Leafs roster, he would sit in the press box watching a younger G James Reimer steal the net that he was supposed to be guarding as the next goalie of the future.

Image Courtesy of Paul Chaisson

With all that in the past and one more year on his contract, Gustavsson knows he isn’t guaranteed a spot on next season’s opening night roster. G J.S. Giguere’s future has been left undetermined until after he completes a surgery for a hernia so the best thing for the Monster to do is continue working on his transition to the NHL.

“I often hear I let off a lot of rebounds but it has been taught, that’s what we are working on,” Gustavsson said when discussing his game while on assignment to the Marlies.

“Maybe it sounds weird but if there’s going to be a rebound, it’s often better to put it in front of you instead of to the side because if you put it in front you, you don’t have to move and you’re ready for the next shot. Often the defensemen are in front of you too so they can take care of the puck,” he added when explaining the way he’s been trained to handle the rubber.

Gustavsson went on to say, “if it goes to the side and it ends up on the other teams stick they can shoot right away and you’re probably going to have to do a highlight save if you’re going to stop that puck. You make it easier on yourself to keep it in front. If you can get it deflected into the stands or something like that, that’s good but otherwise it’s pretty good to keep the puck in front of you.”

The style of goaltending Gustavsson chooses to play in known worldwide as the “butterfly” and was made famous by the creator Francois Allaire, who coached a young Patrick Roy to the 1986 Stanley Cup Finals. Now with the Leafs organization, Allaire is moulding all of his talents into butterfly goalies. His relationship with Giguere dates back to their time together in Anaheim and surprisingly, Allaire’s association with Gustavsson goes back further then the Leafs organization as well.

“Ya maybe six years ago (Allaire) came to Sweden for a goalie school. That’s where I first met him. That’s when I first started thinking about what I was doing in the net. He came and he showed me what it’s all about, how I should play so I thought about it,” said Gustavsson. “I would say the last two or three years before I came here I started to work on a daily basis pretty much the same way Francois works over here.  It was good for me to get that type of practice before I came here. Those summers were huge to me when I was younger.”

Spending his final seasons in Sweden playing for Farjestads Bk Karlstad, Gustavsson had a career best 1.96 GAA in 42 games and because of his relationship with Allaire, chose to come to the Leafs organization when he felt ready for the NHL.  Not only was Gustavsson changing continents by coming to Toronto, he was still adapting his new style of play and admitted it wasn’t an easy thing to do.

“It didn’t happen right away that I played how I wanted to play. It’s all about how you practice and all your routines. It’s like a golfer. If he wants to change his swing it’s not going to happen right away. He’s going to maybe have to shoot a couple thousand shots to change. Took a couple years but I believe more and more in this way of goaltending,” enforced Gustavsson.

“The butterfly is about making it as simple as possible. You have to always try to be square to the shooters and be in the right position. When you try to be centre you can block. You need to have a high percentage to save the shot. It’s all about positioning and being at the right place at the right time, make yourself big and squeeze everything so they can’t beat you under the arm or five-hole.”

Knowing that positioning and rebound control is a major focus to work on throughout the summer; Gustavsson will likely be the master of his

Image Courtesy of Rene Johnston

own fate when he enters training camp in the fall. He hasn’t seen NHL action since a 7-0 loss to the New York Rangers on January 19th. Six of those goals he was responsible for on 25 shots. However his time spent with the Marlies through February gave him a chance to play and bounce back with improved numbers at 3-1-1 with a 1.1.4 GAA and a .955SV%. It also seems that he has fully recovered from any health issues related to his heart and will be ready to play when the time comes.

Believing not all of Gustavsson’s issues this season were the Swedish net-minder’s responsibility General Manager Brian Burke told Leafs Writer Mike Ulmer,

“I think he is a legitimate NHL goaltender and he needs to be given a chance to see that.”

And when asked about the future of Giguere or the potential to sign another goalie Burke added,

“Not at this point we’ll see how training camp goes.”

With that being said, there is still the remainder of the 2011 NHL play-offs, the Draft in June and free agency come July. After all of that, Gustavsson will have his shot to show it was just one bad season.

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