Jonas the right choice

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:44 AM ET

The qualities of 'perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey' that put Jonas Gustavsson in the running for this season's Bill Masterton Trophy must be there in equal or greater abundance in 2010-11.

While he earned the nomination for the Maple Leafs the hard way, playing through the recent death of his mother, two heart ablations, a groin strain and a crash course in the NHL for a 29th-place team, it doesn’t mean he won’t be challenged next season.

Gustavsson’s first NHL playing campaign comes to an end tonight in New York, but a busy summer begins almost immediately. He’ll be sitting in on long-term contract talks with the Leafs, he’s in line for an invite to play for Sweden at the world championships and there will be a summer of fine-tuning his lanky frame into a wall, sealing up the rest of the cracks that shooters found in his early starts.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle of all sits a few feet away. Jean-Sebastien Giguere proved a better mentor for him than Vesa Toskala the past two months, but Giguere has his own family to care for and that means trying to win the No. 1 job next season.

“I have to sign here first, but I think we’ll work (playing time) out,” Gustavsson said Tuesday morning after the Toronto chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association made him the team’s Masterton nominee. “We might not be playing every second game (as was the case since March when Gustavsson won seven straight), but we can keep pushing each other.”

Not all tandems work. The proud Curtis Joseph and Dominik Hasek needed Manny Legace placed between them in the Red Wings’ room, while competitive young Leafs Allan Bester and Ken Wregget weren’t close early in their careers.

But the 32-year-old Giguere thinks the two can co-exist.

“We will still be very friendly,” Giguere said as he looked ahead to next year. “The goaltending component, along with the coach (Francois Allaire), is like the team within the team. We help each other out in a long season. Jonas is the only guy who knows what I’m going through, giving up a bad goal, making a nice save. So it’s important that we support and push each other and by doing that, we create a healthy competition.”

There was no arguing Gustavsson filled the criteria for the Masterton, even if he hadn’t heard about the award until Tuesday morning.

“Maybe it’s not the award you want to win growing up, but it’s proof you work hard and I’m honoured for that,” Gustavsson said. “It has been ups and downs the past year, but you can’t lay down and feel sorry for yourself.

“You can’t take a day off and think you don’t have to work anymore. Finding out to take care of your body, how much to eat and drink, that was a change from Sweden for me, having played so many more games this year. But you appreciate the fun stuff and for me, that’s playing hockey.”

Bill Masterton was the Minnesota North Stars player who died after his head hit the ice in January of 1968. The Leafs have recent connections to the award as the recently traded Jason Blake won it in 2008, preceded by future Leaf Phil Kessel, followed by ex-Leaf Steve Sullivan. All 30 nominees aren’t known yet, but head coach Ron Wilson was quick to lobby the writers to pick ‘The Monster’.

“I can’t think of a pro athlete who had two heart surgeries who came back and played,” Wilson said. “His mom passed away before he signed with us ... is there a greater show of perseverance than what he has done this year?”

Gustavsson lost his mother to chronic lung disease after his father died of a blood disorder four years earlier. He became ill on the first day of training camp, traced to a heart condition that required an ablation process. As well as fight through a groin injury, he was diagnosed with a racing heart on his way to a road shutout against the Canadiens on Dec. 1, which led to a second ablation.

He was an only child, but says it was great comfort that his girlfriend moved to Toronto with him and that the Leafs are stacked with Swedes such as his Farjestads teammate Rickard Wallin.

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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