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'COUNTRY' CLUB

Gustafsson latest addition to sizable Swedish contingent in Flames dressing room, with those familiar faces helping him settle in quickly

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

BOSTON - Here, the bonds trace back. 

Waaaaaay back. 

From the golf course to the ice rinks, to the draft stage and the pros, the 'Swedish Mafia' never forgets a friend. 

"I know Lindholm from way back, and Backlund I played with at the World Championship. Kylington, I know, too, and Andersson I played with a lot in Sweden," laughed the newest Flame, Erik Gustafsson, shortly after meeting his new 'mates in Boston.

So, all of them?

 

Video: "Calgary is a hockey town... it's going to be fun."

"Yeah, I guess so.

"All the other guys were pretty mad because there was another Swede coming in," he laughed.

Gustafsson, who was acquired in a deadline-day trade that sent a third-round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks, is already finding comfort in his new surroundings. 

Because of his fellow countrymen, the transition is that much easier. 

"It's always tough to coming into a new team," Gustafsson said. "You're the new guy, right? But I've played with or against these guys for a couple years now, and they're all great guys.

"They've already talked about the atmosphere in the rink. I've played there a bunch of times and the crowd is really good, very passionate. 

"It's going to be fun to play for a Canadian team."

Gustafsson and fellow newcomer Derek Forbort will both be in the lineup tonight as the Flames continue a five-game road trip with a stop in Boston to face the league-leading Bruins for the second time in five days. 

As it happens, they'll both be paired together, too, with Gustafsson getting some gravy time on the top powerplay unit - a spot he's become quite familiar with, as the top quarterback with the Blackhawks over the past two years. 

Last season, the 27-year-old had a career campaign, finishing sixth among D men with 60 points (17G, 43A), three game-winning strikes, and an average of 22:35 in ice time.

He also has 31 career powerplay points in only 214 games. 

"It's going to be fun lining up on the blueline (in that situation)," Gustafsson said. "We have the skill, we have the shooting mentality, and we have guys in front of the net. What I'll do is try to get the puck to guys on the flanks, try to get the puck to the net and good stuff will happen."

The addition adds a new wrinkle to the Flames' offence, and certainly gives the coach options when it comes to managing ice time.

With Gustafsson taking over on the top unit, Mark Giordano - should he return this evening - can have his minutes dialled back and assume that same role with the second array.

"He's got great deception - you can see it right away, the way he moves across the top of the blueline," interim head coach Geoff Ward said of the D man. "The top player on the powerplay is huge in terms of what he can do, because he often sets up the flankers. He'll manipulate the penalty-kill into one side or create an opening the flankers can exploit. The fact that he sets it up so easily up top there is a huge addition for us. 

"You can see right away in the first couple reps how easily he moves along the blue line and the command that he has in order to move the penalty-killing forwards."

 

Video: "I was pretty pumped when he told me that."

 

Gustafsson - like fellow Flame TJ Brodie - is a left-shot that prefers playing on the right side. 

Turns out, he was forced into this role a few years ago when former Chicago blueliner Henri Jokiharju got the call around Christmas to play in the World Juniors. He's been a mainstay in that slot ever since, and will start there again tonight with his new team.

"We only had six D on the roster at that point, so I stepped into that role," Gustafsson said. "I have to say - Duncan Keith really helped me a lot with that transition. I thought I handled it pretty well and after a while, stuck there, full-time. 

"Honestly, it's pretty fun to play on the right side as an offensive defenceman. The one-timer is always open to you inside the zone, so my options offensively are always there. It's definitely a little tougher going D-to-D in the defensive end, but those are little things. I can handle it. I've been working on it for quite a while now and I've come to love it. It's a lot more fun playing in that spot.

"You can see the play develop right in front of you because you're not looking across your body. You can skate it up, dump it in, make a play, pass it off - basically anything you want. 

"You have so many options."

 

Video: Happy to have Erik Gustaffson and Derek Forbort here

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