DETROIT – When Jonas Gustavsson picked up the phone shortly after 12 p.m. Sunday and learned that the Red Wings had made him an offer, there wasn’t much to consider.
“When I first heard that Detroit had interest in me, I mean, that was kind of a no-brainer,” Gustavsson said in an exclusive phone interview with DetroitRedWings.com. “Detroit has so many great players and great Swedes, and with all of the history, I felt that it was a perfect fit for me.”
It’s also a perfect fit for the Red Wings who now enter the 2012-13 NHL season with a solid No. 2 to backup All-Star goalie Jimmy Howard. The Wings also have Joey MacDonald under contract for next season.
The Wings reached a deal in the first hour of this year’s free agency period when the 6-foot-3 Gustavsson, who spent the last three seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, quickly agreed to a two-year contract on Sunday afternoon.
“When my agent called today and said there was an offer then I knew for sure, so that’s when I knew today that they wanted me,” said Gustavsson, whose negotiating rights were traded to Winnipeg at last weekend’s NHL draft. “It was right around 12 (p.m.) when I got the phone call that was exciting news.
“As soon as I heard it was Detroit, I was like, ‘OK, wrap it up and let’s sign.’ To be able to play in an organization like that that always puts a good team on the ice, for me, personally, that’s the right move for me to try to take the next step in my development. I think as soon as I heard I wanted to make the deal right away.”
Gustavsson has played alongside several of the Wings’ Swedish players like Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, Johan Franzen, and Jonathan Ericsson, but he probably knows minor-leaguer Fabian Brunnstrom the best.
“I’ve probably played with all of them at least once in my career whether it was in the Olympics or World Championships,” Gustavsson said. “The player that I’ve probably played most with is actually Fabian Brunnstrom. I played with him in Sweden and in Toronto’s organization for a while too. But I think I’ve met and played with pretty much all of them.”
Gustavsson got to know his new teammates a little during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
“That was great for me, an honor to be on that team and to represent my country at the Olympics,” Gustavsson said. “To feel the atmosphere of all of the Olympians around there and to be on a great team like Team Sweden was unbelievable, though in the end we didn’t do as well as we wanted to so that was a disappointment.”
However, Gustavsson gained plenty of attention for his individual performance in leading Färjestad to the Swedish Elite League playoff championship in the year prior to the Olympics. It was in that playoff run – when he amassed an astonishing 1.03 goals-against and a .961 save percentage in 13 games – that he earned the nickname The Monster.
“I had a good run in the playoffs and my old coach in Sweden said to one of the reporters there that I played like a monster at that point,” Gustavsson said. “The media over there kind of gave me that nickname and when I came over here it followed me.”
He arrived in hockey-happy Toronto in 2009 amid a fanfare of Leafs’ supporters who were hoping that Gustavsson would play more like a savior.
“Of course it was a lot of pressure, which with being a goalie there’s already a lot of pressure, but that’s something that you have to learn to handle,” he said. “Coming over from Sweden with the nickname and everything that was happening, it made the expectations really high. But I would rather have it that way with everyone thinking it’s going to be great and everyone believing in you.”
In three seasons, Gustavsson posted a 39-45-15 record with a 2.98 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage.
“I didn’t think that I was going to come over here and right away become an All-Star goalie in the first year,” he said. “It’s a long process and I’m just happy that I got the experience in the NHL right away to get some games and get that experience. The more you play the more comfortable you’re going to be on the ice and that’s huge, especially coming from Europe with the big ice over there and the quicker game pace over here. You have to adjust.”
Adjusting to his new Original Six club and teammates shouldn’t be a problem, Gustavsson said, but don’t expect him to lollygag in his new backup role, either.
“You always want to push yourself to show that you want to be a part of the team or that being in the net doesn’t bother you,” he said. “That’s something that you need as an athlete, you want to have goals and something to push you, otherwise I think, it’s going to be hard to become the type of player that you want to become. That’s the mentality that I have, to push myself and work hard. I try to do everything I can to put myself in the best situation to take the next step.”
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