TROY, Mich. – Four months ago, Swedish goalie Jonas Gustavsson made the decision to move from Toronto to metro Detroit after signing a two-year free agency contract with the Red Wings.
Then the lockout hit, leaving Gustavsson in a strange town where he knew virtually nobody. Heck, he hadn’t been introduced to all of his new teammates prior to the work stoppage that took hold on Sept. 16.
“I came here in September and I stayed here ever since,” the 6-foot-3 goaltender said. “I went back to Toronto for a couple of days, that’s it. Other than that I was here the whole time and that was good for me.”
Quickly, Gustavsson became acclimated to the region and instantly made friends with new teammates, though not knowing when, or if, they would play together this season. During his time in Detroit, Gustavsson has been a regular among the players who have steadily participated in informal skating sessions at Troy Sports Center.
He returned to Detroit on Thursday after spending a few days in Arizona, where a large group of NHL players, including fellow Red Wings Daniel Cleary, Jonathan Ericsson, Niklas Kronwall and Jimmy Howard, gathered for high-intensity workouts leading up to team training camps, which could begin on Sunday.
“We felt like that was the best way to prepare,” said Gustavsson, of the Arizona workouts. “They had some more guys out there, so that’s why I decided to go; try to find different ways to get ready. Hopefully, that was a good decision. But I thought we had a pretty good camp there, we had some good skates and some good workouts.”
For as informal as many of the workouts have been in Troy over the last four months, the extended period with his Red Wings’ teammates has provided a bond leading into the abbreviated season, Gustavsson said.
“Of course it helps, but the good thing is that I get the chance to know most of the guys, spending the time here,” he said. “We did whatever we could to get ready for when it starts and when it does I’m sure we’re going to take advantage of being together as much as we could.”
A very talented goaltender, he earned the nickname 'Monster' for a reason, he looks like a car parked in front of the net, and he should provide adequate support between the pipes for the Red Wings and give Howard some rest between starts.
“Great guy, first of all,” forward and fellow Swede Johan Franzen said. “Good competitor. He's shown some good form lately. He's going to be out there and fight every day. He wants to be in the net. We're always looking for a good guy to have besides Howie.”
In three NHL seasons with the Maple Leafs, Gustavsson recorded a 39-45-15 mark with a 2.98 goals-against average and .900 save percentage.
Gustavsson wouldn’t speculate on the number of games he envisions playing in this shortened, 48-game season. “Well, it’s tough to say,” he said. “I played 42 games last year. I don’t think I’ll play that this season.”
Howard, for one, is very pleased to have Gustavsson has a goaltending partner.
“I think it's definitely beneficial to have both goalies going because points are going to be at a premium this year and you're going to need them,” Howard said. “Every single game is going to be like the playoffs. You can't afford to lose a couple in a row so we're going to need both of us going.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose