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Jonas Gustavsson's Unknown Quantity

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
I wrote this September 25.

“With about six minutes left in a preseason game, everything changed for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Leafs held a 2-1 lead but the Detroit Red Wings were gifted with a two-on-none which resulted in a slam dunk chance for Detroit’s Johan Ryno. Ryno was, maybe five feet away from the goalline.

So was Leaf goalie Jonas Gustavsson. He had been for an appreciable period of time.

There are moments, little moments in the careers of goaltenders, when the home crowd decides they would trust this kid with their cars, their kids, and most importantly, the fortunes of their favourite hockey players.”

What began that night is now in full bloom.

When a goalie in my pickup game stretched to make a save, his teammates chanted “Monster, Monster” from the bench.

I have no idea whether this guy will turn out to be Ed Belfour or Tim Bernhardt, Ed Johnston or Curtis Joseph, Felix Potvin or Daren Puppa.

Gustavsson significantly lowered his GAA against Detroit on Saturday. (Getty)

For those of you convinced that a swoon cannot happen, I have two words: Steve Penney.

Still, a few days ago, Gustavsson lowered his goals against average to just under 3.00 and nudged his save percentage over .900.

This morning he awakens to the pleasant sensation of a 2.60 goals against average and a save percentage of .918.

There is something about this altogether guileless 25-year-old, Swedish kid. It is a quality that ignites wild speculation with just one superb save.

Against Detroit everybody realized at once that something had been missing and that something now wore 50.

Gustavsson has all the requisite elements. He is calm, having been allowed to develop his game in the relative anonymity of the Swedish Elite League.

He is six-three and athletic. He improvises in the crease, but consistently returns to the dogma of the butterfly. From post to post, he is jaw-droopingly fast and unlike Vesa Toskala, the goalie he has routed to win the number one spot, he ventures to the top of the crease and back.

Gustavsson does so because he is superbly confident of his ability to stymie a back-door pass.

Forty-five years ago, an American Supreme Court Justice named John Potter issued a ruling on obscenity. “I shall not further attempt to define it,” he wrote, “but I know it when I see it.”

There is something about Gustavsson you can’t quite quantify but can’t help but notice.

Maybe the closest description is the word presence. Look at him. The kid looks like a fortress.

Have you ever met a toxic person, someone who saps your resolve just by talking to you?

The rookie has established himself as a "fortress" in a handful of games. (Getty)

Gustavsson has that effect on opponents. He infects the confidence of his opponents. And this speaks to his future. Without any notable ego of his own, he seems well-placed to recover from the horrors that ultimately find any goalie.

When I was a kid, I watched Mark the Bird Fydrich win 19 games for the Detroit Tigers just by being himself. The Bird was as genuine a human being as you will find in any endeavour but his gift ran so freely through his one sainted winning season, the idea of hitting him bordered on incomprehensible.

After just a handful of games, that’s who Jonas Gustavsson is right now. He is The Bird before the fall.

Fidrych’s story speaks to the fragility of an athlete’s fate.

But if Gustavsson continues, and there is no compelling evidence that we will not, we are marching into the era of the Monster. You will know it when you see it.

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