Simmons: The truth on Jonas Gustavsson

Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson (Craig Robertson/QMI Agency)

Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson (Craig Robertson/QMI Agency)

Steve Simmons, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:17 AM ET

The truth on Jonas Gustavsson: He'd rather not be known as The Monster.

He knows that's what his coach, Ron Wilson, calls him. He knows that Brian Burke rarely refers to him by name. He doesn't really care for it. His face tells you that, moreso than his words.

"I hear it a lot (from fans). 'You don't look like a Monster,' " said Gustavsson, the Leafs' accidental and suddenly starting goalie. "I say, 'Have you seen one?' I don't know what a real Monster looks like either.

"It's not like I go around and call myself that when I'm with new people. It's one of those names. If you have a good game, media can use that, and if you have a bad one, media can use that, too. For me, I don't really care about it ... I don't have a problem with that."

But his name is Jonas, with a J that sounds like a Y. And his game right now is paramount in this up-and-down and still-promising season for the Maple Leafs. He has won three starts in a row, eight of his last 11. Until further notice, he's the man. And the surest sign of where Leafs goaltending is with the Leafs came Monday afternoon as the erstwhile starter, James Reimer, remained on the ice at the MasterCard Centre, still at work 45 minutes after the Toronto practice had officially come to an end.

Had Reimer accomplished of late what has come naturally to Gustavsson, there would be chest thumping in Leaf land. But the machinations of Gustavsson's time in Toronto have been many, monster challenges really, for a goaltender who seems able to handle just about anything with a certain Swedish calm.

In no particular order, he has had heart problems, puck-stopping problems, positional problems, butterfly problems, puck movement problems, lost his opportunity to start, lost the faith of his coaching staff and management, almost lost his job completely, and now, for this week and who knows how long, he is the starter.

This would drive some people crazy, the weekly and almost daily alteration of his time and place with the Leafs, but not Gustavsson, who outwardly appears to be a straight line. He doesn't talk a lot. He admits he doesn't think a lot about where he stands, where he's heading. He doesn't acknowledge this season has been something of a roller coaster ride. He was truly in danger of losing his backup job to Ben Scrivens earlier. Now he's riding the crest of a winning streak, coming off a home shutout against Winnipeg, a huge win Saturday night against the Detroit Red Wings.

"He's been through a lot of things," said Wilson. "And he's probably grown from those experiences."

Gustavsson lost both his parents before he played his first game in Toronto. It's a lot for a young man to endure. Changing countries, having health issues, trying to find your game.

"He just keeps evolving as a person first and foremost, and as a goalie."

This season wasn't supposed to go this way, but how many actually turn out as planned?

Reimer was anointed the starter from Day 1 of training camp, with Gustavsson set to work in relief. But in half a season, he has morphed from backup, to near minor leaguer, to unlikely starter.

"For myself, I don't feel like it's been that way," said Gustavsson in a lengthy conversation.

"I'm sure it's been that way in the newspapers and people talking, but I've been feeling pretty good right for the start of training camp ... No offence, but media, I don't read and I don't follow the media so much."

The Monster nickname started in Sweden, built up by the media after a series of impressive games, when his coach said he had a monster-like run in goal.

From there, it just took off. Before that, he was known as Goorah. Had he come to the NHL without any kind of nickname, the clever dressing room hockey culture would have probably tabbed him Gus. No matter what they call him, starter feels pretty good for now. He is no kid anymore, at the age of 27, even though he's still discovering his game.

"If you don't win or you're not playing, you can't just panic and think about stuff other than what you're doing," said Gustavsson, whose play has been better than statistics indicate.

"It's up to me to play my best and we'll see what they want to do with me."


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