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More Gustavsson debate: evoking memories of the similarly acrobatic Roger Crozier

After I had posted a piece on the Reimer call-up on Sunday night and the potentially negative impact it could have on Jonas Gustavsson, on Monday I read with interest a fine piece in the Toronto Star by Vinay Menon.

Vinay, as many of you who read his stuff no doubt know, is a journalist with the Star, but this season has also been writing a regular Maple Leaf “fan post” blog, if you will.

His take on the Reimer call-up, if I read it properly, is that the organization is actually saving The Monster, giving him, in a sense, paid leave to either spend some time with the Marlies or relax and step away from things for a time to get his head together.

It was, I thought, an interesting perspective on the subject, and certainly got me thinking.  Vinay points out, perhaps correctly, that beyond the sliding statistics, Gustavsson, as we’ve also noted here, has seemingly lost that inner confidence that any athlete—and most assuredly goalies—need to be at their best.

(With three goalies in Carolina last night, Giguere started.  I have to believe management hopes that, by "showcasing" Giggy, he will draw trade interest before the deadline.  While I have written that I believe the Leafs still have a playoff shot in the weak Eastern Conference, part of me wonders if Giggy should be the guy in goal.  Again in Monday's game, he was just OK, allowing 5 goals on 27 shots.)

In any event, this situation with Guastavsson in apparent limbo reminds me somewhat of when a young Roger Crozier took over from the legendary Terry Sawchuk in the Detroit nets.  (See the great old action-photo above, with Crozier in the net, surrounded by, among others, teammates Marcel Pronovost, Normie Ullman and Boston's Leo Boivin (#20 in white), all Hall-of-Famers.  Bruin forward Murray Oliver is on the left.) The Maple Leafs had picked up Sawchuk in the intra-league draft in the summer of 1964, propelling the very quick and acrobatic (much like the Monster) Crozier to the forefront.

So good was Crozier that he led the Red Wings to the regular-season championship in 1964-’65, and then, in the spring of 1966, played out-of-his-mind in leading Detroit to the finals against the then powerful Montreal Canadiens.

In one of those rare and astounding displays, the left-handed Crozier (see photo at right) shocked the Habs by stealing (and I mean stealing, he was absolutely brilliant) the first two games of the series right at the Forum in Montreal.

Unfortunately for Detroit (and me, since I loathed the Habs in those days), there were four or five days (Tuesday to Sunday, I think it was) between games because of U.S. television requirements.  And the Wings, courtesy of coach Sid Abel, spent the next three days in Toledo doing not much of anything except going to the race track.

They lost their edge, and Montreal roared back to win the series–and the Cup—in the next four games.

Now, I can’t quite remember if it was the very next season, or in 1967-’68, but at some point, in the middle of the NHL season, Crozier was struggling, really struggling.  He seemed way off his game.  Easy shots were finding the back of the net.  As a young fan at the time living near Detroit, I remember that the Detroit media was all over Crozier.

The Red Wings, seeing that this colorful, athletic goalie he had seemingly lost his confidence, weren't sure what was going on.  They decided to send him to Florida with his family for a couple of weeks to get away from things.  He returned and as I recall, did play somewhat better, though I’m not sure he ever regained, consistently at least, the kind of brilliance he had displayed earlier in his career.

By all means Roger had a very nice NHL career.  Traded by the Wings in 1970, he went on to play several seasons in the early expansion years with Buffalo, and was actually the back-up (behind Gerry Desjardins, I think it was) on the really good Buffalo team that made it to the finals against the Flyers in the spring of 1975.  He finished his career with the Capitals, after 14 seasons and more than 500 games played.  That's pretty good. He was nowhere near as tall as Gustavsson (maybe 5 foot 8) but very agile, like The Monster.

As for Gustavsson, I’m still not sure I like this move to have three goalies, or to (possibly) send him to the Marlies, though I understand what some are suggesting.  At his age, I think the team would do as much—if not more—good, by staying with him and letting him work through this.  Just as confidence is lost, sometimes it doesn’t take much to get things going in the right direction again.  A good game could do it.

But sometimes, to believe in yourself, you need to feel that others believe in you, too.  I know it’s a business, but the Leafs will need Gustavsson when things get better.

Maybe there’s no right or wrong approach here.  Maybe the organization is indeed trying to help him out by giving him some time out of the net.

We’re all hoping that elusive confidence returns. I’d like to see him do it against NHL shooters.


It's hard to miss the ex-Leafs whenever they play Carolina (Harrison, White and Tlusty) but more important is the fact that the Hurricanes have developed some nice young talent, well beyond Staal.  Skinner, Sutter and McBain stand out for me, and they're not alone.


Tim Brent showed some of the offensive flash he had in his junior days with St. Mike's.  It could be a huge addition if he and Brown make that fourth line even more important as the season wears on.


Phaneuf is playing huge minutes (over 28 Monday night) these days, a good sign that Wilson is feeling more and more as though the defender is delivering what the Leafs need.  As we've said here many times, Dion is, like most guys, a player with flaws in his game.  But when he is a physical presence and makes those good outlet passes, he can be a difference-maker.


Sjostrom may be wondering why he drew those two third-period penalties.  Wilson, perhaps rightly, called them "ticky-tack" penalties after the game.


When your fourth line is your best line, as Wilson suggested it was, that may not be a good thing.

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