Jonas Gustavsson has proven to be the very essence of perseverance and determination in his first season with the Bruins.
The 31-year-old arrived in camp on a tryout without any guarantees after an injury-plagued season with the Red Wings, and had to beat out two younger candidates, in Malcolm Subban and Jeremy Smith, for the B’s backup role last fall. That was one level of perseverance, and something that makes the veteran goalie carry around perhaps a heightened appreciation for his day-to-day career in the National Hockey League.
“You always try to enjoy it, but you’re so into it that you have one thing on your mind: just being the best that you can every single day,” said Gustavsson. “When the season is over, you try and reflect. If you had a good season then you can think about it and enjoy it, but during the season you just want to be in the moment, and make the most of it.
“Last season I didn’t play much because of injuries and this summer I didn’t know what was going to happen. So I was happy to get a shot here, and I was open-minded coming into camp. I just wanted to stay positive and believe in myself, and if I did the right things then I might get the shot. Obviously I was happy that I got it.”
Gustavsson has remained healthy nearly all season for the Black and Gold after injuries limited him to seven games in Detroit last season, and posted a solid 11-7-1 record, 2.63 goals against and .911 save percentage with the Bruins. He’s been a reliable veteran able to give Rask the proper rest he didn’t have last season, and Gustavsson enjoyed his best game of the season a big road shutout win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
But there’s perseverance on a whole other level as well.
The Swedish netminder endured a scare when he exited a midseason game against the Ducks after the first period with an elevated heart rate after three previous heart procedures in his seven year NHL career. There were questions as to how serious the entire episode was for both Gustavsson and the Bruins, but it turned out to be more precautionary than of serious concern.
Still it was a reminder of some of the concerning moments earlier in Gustavsson’s career when he was in Toronto, and he wasn’t sure whether issues with an irregular heart rate would derail his young NHL career.
“When it first happened years back it was something I would think about, and was a little worried about,” said Gustavsson. “But pretty much within the week, I got the results and they did a few procedures to make it better. The last few years I’ve felt really good. I’ve had some minor things, but nothing I really had to worry about, or miss time from.
“I’m not thinking about it. If something were to happen that would make me stay out of a game, then I don’t see it as any more than getting the flu, or something like that. It might happen, and if it happens then you deal with it for a day or two. Then you’re back at it. I’m not worried about it.”
The determined netminder bounced back from that January incident, however, and didn’t miss a Bruins beat for the rest of the season while showing the same determination and perseverance that’s caused him to push on with his career in the wake of adversity. It’s in that spirit that Gustavsson has been voted as the Bruins nominee for the NHL’s Masterton Trophy, which is “an annual award ... given to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.”
Gustavsson was honored, but also perhaps a little embarrassed to be nominated for an award honoring his personal victories over adversity in his hockey career.
After all, just about every NHL player faces some of adversity in their career, right?
“It’s always an honor to be nominated for anything,” said Gustavsson. “That’s now what you have going into the season or during the season, but I’ll take it. I feel like everybody here has to go through things just to reach this level, and that if you want to go even higher then you have to keep pushing yourself.
“There’s always going to be bumps that you pass, and it’s the same thing for me. I don’t feel like I’m any different than anybody else. Everyone in this locker room is working hard whether it’s injuries, or whatever it could be. I just try to follow that, and do the very best that I can.”
The Boston chapter of the PHWA (Professional Hockey Writers Association) voted for Gustavsson as the nominee for the Bruins, and three finalists from the 30 NHL nominees will be present at the NHL Awards this summer where a final winner for the Masterton Trophy will be recognized.