Salming steers Monster to T.O.

Leafs' goalie Jonas Gustavsson skates off the ice with his helmet after defeating the Detroit Red...

Leafs' goalie Jonas Gustavsson skates off the ice with his helmet after defeating the Detroit Red Wings. (REUTERS/ Mike Cassese)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:12 AM ET

From his front row seat at the posh Air Canada Club, Hall of Famer Borje Salming looked like a proud papa as he watched Maple Leafs goaltender Jonas Gustavsson steal the spotlight last night.

No, Salming and The Monster are not related. But that didn't stop him from smiling.

This, after all, was the same goalie that Salming helped woo to the Leafs this past summer.

"He is going to be good," Salming said, nodding in Gustavsson's direction. "Very good."

ALREADY GOOD

Many would say Gustavsson already is. The Cinderella story that is the Monster's tale continued last night as he helped the Leafs upend the mighty Detroit Red Wings 5-1 at the Air Canada Centre. The once-staggering Leafs have now recorded points in seven consecutive outings, including back-to-back victories, for the first time this season.

And it is no coincidence that Gustavsson, showing far more composure than that of your average NHL rookie, has been between the pipes for six of those games.

As Gustavsson was turning away the Wings, there were no handshakes for Salming from fans thanking him for helping lure the young goalie here. Maybe there should have been.

Keep in mind that Gustavsson, 25, was like many hockey-crazed kids growing up in Sweden. To them, Salming was a sporting legend, a pioneer who helped blaze the path into North America for generations of Swedish players.

One of Gustavsson's most prized possessions, in fact, is a Borje Salming Leafs jersey that he has owned "for about 15 years."

That should tell you just how much he admires Salming, whose nickname, fittingly, is The King.

Just imagine, then, how thrilled Gustavsson was when, while with Team Sweden at the world championship in Switzerland last spring, his phone rang, waking him from a deep sleep. When the caller identified himself, Gustavsson thought he was still dreaming.

"I was shocked," Gustavsson said, adding: "He did a great job of selling Toronto."

"I did my part for Toronto," Salming recalled last night. "I just told him what a great place Toronto was to play and how big hockey was here.

"I told him that if you had success here, you couldn't find a place where you would be treated better."

Obviously, Gustavsson bought the sales pitch.

The original idea to have Salming call Gustavsson belonged to Maple Leafs assistant general manager Jeff Jackson. The Leafs were locked in a recruiting war with the Dallas Stars for Gustavsson and Jackson was looking for any edge the Leafs could get.

CAUGHT OFF-GUARD

"Borje and I are friends," Jackson said. "We played together in the latter stages of his career. I thought he could help, so I got in touch with him and asked if he could give (Gustavsson) a ring."

Gustavsson had no idea that Salming would be in the house last night. As a result, he was caught totally off-guard when Salming was introduced during the pre-game Hall of Fame ceremonies, watching in awe as The King stepped on to the ice, accompanied by a standing ovation.

Once the game started, the crowd's applause shifted to the Monster, who made 35 stops en route to being named the MVP of the Hall of Fame game. That honour was especially significant since it was voted on by Salming and his Hall of Fame peers in attendance.

"To have him here, on this night, well, it's amazing," Gustavsson said. "I admire all the Hall of Famers who were here. But I don't know them all that well.

"But for Borje Salming to be here for this, it just means so much."

MIKE.ZEISBERGER@SUNMEDIA.CA


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