It's a matter of heart

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

Jonas Gustavsson was begging to be tested at his first NHL training camp, but he and the Maple Leafs couldn't have had these trials in mind.

The Swedish goaltending prospect went woozy on the stationary bike during Saturday's training camp medicals and had to leave the rink in an ambulance, prompting club doctors to start poking and prodding further.

The weekend checkup traced the cause of his racing heart to a problem with his circuitry.

It required a cardiac ablation yesterday at Sunnybrook Hospital, a mildly invasive procedure with wire-like catheters inserted into a blood vessel in the groin area, running to the heart.

The tip of the probe sends back vital data and zaps a fragment of tissue, which results in proper re-wiring of the flow of electricity to the heart.

Gustavsson has been told to rest at least 48 hours, as much to heal the small stitching in the groin area as to monitor his heart. He could be back on the ice this weekend.

"Jonas thinks he has had (the discomfort) as many as five times before and just assumed it was natural," Leafs general manager Brian Burke said. "You get excited once in a while and your heart races. Two guys in our minor organization had this procedure last year (as did Barry Tallackson of the New Jersey Devils who played a week later). Jonas should be fine."

Before the true nature of The Monster's condition was known, coach Ron Wilson was teasing the 24-year-old about his dramatic exit from the MasterCard Centre on Saturday, but he was expressing relief yesterday.

"We're lucky it happened when he was put under stress (on the bike) because a lot of times you can't duplicate the situation when his heart was racing," Wilson said.

The Leafs have had their share of off-ice medical mishaps through the years from former first-round pick Luca Cereda's heart ailment to the thrombosis that cut short Dmitry Yushkevich's NHL career.

They've certainly put a lot of stock in improving their goaltending this season after Vesa Toskala succumbed to hip and sports hernia problems last year that helped land Toronto in last spot with an .885 save percentage.

Wilson added that the Leafs' league-worst 74.7% penalty killing was a direct reflection of sub-par goaltending.

Toskala tried to play through his injury without disclosing his pain, while a puzzled Wilson figured the Finn was dogging it in practice.

When Toskala did come clean, the team pressed him to have the double surgery immediately to be at maximum capability for the start of this camp.

By bringing in Gustavsson, who is not only younger and more publicized, but from a rival Scandinavian country, Burke and Wilson hoped to give Toskala the competition he didn't get in his first two years here.

In Monday's scrimmage, 222-pound winger Colton Orr crashed into Gustavsson as he stuffed in a goal. Fending off Orr was just part of Gustavsson's initiation.

"It's good they're crashing the net," he said Monday. "Everyone is here for a reason, to go 100%. I don't want them taking it easy on me, afraid of doing something like shooting at my head. I want them to (test me), because that stuff is going to happen later."

Throw ex-New York Islander Joey MacDonald into the mix with goaltending guru Francois Allaire's wisdom and the Leafs should not have the doubts of last year, when Toskala was ailing, Curtis Joseph was aging and Justin Pogge was failing.

'CONFIDENT'

"I think there will be vast improvement, the most improved area of our team," Wilson said. "You do see Vesa a lot more confident and able to do his work. He has to go out here again and prove he's a number one goalie. It's not about an injury anymore, it's about competing with other guys for ice time. Vesa knows, as all our players do, that I won't hesitate to play anyone in any situation. That's not a threat to Vesa, it's reality."

LANCE.HORNBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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