Nothing has ever come easy to Jonas Gustavsson in his hockey career. He has had to work for everything that he has achieved and has strived to prove naysayers that he is capable of being a starting goaltender in the NHL.
After displaying a dominant performance in his final season with Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League, which included a 1.96 goals against average, 0.932 save percentage and was named the Most Valuable Player in the post-season en route to winning the league championship.
Despite his impressive play, Gustavsson had dealt with many hardships on and off the ice prior to then. He lost his father four-and-a-half years ago to a blood disorder while he was still playing in Sweden. He also lost his mother in the spring of 2009, shortly before he signed with the Maple Leafs.
Gustavsson plied his trade in the division one league in Sweden from 2002 to 2007, before bumping up to Elite League prior to the 2007-08 season.
Gustavsson began the 2008-09 season as the backup to Austrian-born journeyman Reinhard Divis, who had stints in the NHL with the St. Louis Blues and AHL with the Blues’ affiliate Worchester IceCats. Gustavsson overtook the starting reins from Rivis and led his Farjestad team to a magical playoff run, in which he posted five shutouts through the first eight games, before capturing the Le Mat Trophy as league champions.
Lost in the shutout streak was an unheard-of three-plus game streak that lasted a total of 238 minutes and 20 seconds in which he did not allow a single goal. His performance bested the likes of Henrik Lundqvist, who posted a shutout streak that lasted 175 minutes and 20 seconds, during the 2004-05 season.
After being passed over in the 2003 and 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Gustavsson kept his head up and continued to work hard, which ultimately landed him a one-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the summer of 2009.
Upon arriving in Toronto, Gustavsson was proclaimed ‘The Monster’ for his large frame and acrobatic-like reflexes. He started off relatively well in his rookie season, at age 24, with no previous experience with the North America style of game.
An unsuspecting heart palpation on the opening day of the Leafs training camp, Gustavsson was diagnosed with a racing heart beat after leaving a game midway through against the Montreal Canadiens on December 1st. He underwent a second heart ablation in under three months, which caused some concern that he would be unable to keep up with the rigors of professional hockey.
However, Gustavsson returned to the Leafs in the best shape of his life and finished with a decent 16-15-9 record, along with a 2.87 goals against average and 0.902 save percentage. He was also named the backup goaltender for the Sweden Olympic Team in Vancouver and was the Leafs nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy, after overcoming adversity in his freshman season.
Gustavsson entered this season with a clean slate and with the intention of competing for playing time with Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Thus far, he has looked shaky in the net and appears to have lost his confidence after several blowout losses, including last night’s 7-0 defeat at the hands of the New York Rangers.
Leaf fans are voicing their opinions on blogs, forums and radio stations that Gustavsson needs to be sent to the Toronto Marlies to work on his game, but the fact remains that he will not make it through waivers. There are several teams who could be interested in a young goaltender like ‘The Monster’.
Ron Wilson threw Gustavsson right back into the fire last night when he inserted him back into the crease at the beginning of the second period after he surrendered three goals early in the game. It shows that Wilson still has confidence in his young goaltender, but understands that he is on a short leash.
Based on his performance last season and on the international level, Gustavsson is capable of developing into the Leafs starting goaltender. He is only 65 games into his NHL career, so fans must be patient and continue to watch him develop into the goalie that he was touted to be.
Gustavsson has experienced more significant struggles in getting to where he is today, so his recent struggles won't be an insurmountable challenge to overcome.