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Gustafsson Enjoying NHL Postseason

April 23, 2012





At the beginning of the Flyers' postseason, Erik Gustafsson was with the Adirondack Phantoms and his team's AHL playoff push. While Philadelphia played games one through three of their series against Pittsburgh, Gustafsson was excited with the prospects of vaulting a good Adirondack team into a first-round playoff series of their own with a chance to go a long way.

That didn't pan out as he nor the team had wanted. But little did he know that his season was far from over and would actually soon resume. The 23-year-old from Northern Michigan University received yet another call to the Philadelphia Flyers. And as soonas games five and six of their opening-round series rolled around, he found himself defending on Sidney Crosby, smoothly distributing the puck to his teammates as is one of his strengths, and then even scoring a big goal in the middle of the last game that practically sealed matters and vaulted the Flyers onto the next round.

Indeed, it has been quite an interesting couple of weeks forErik Gustafsson.

And an interesting season in general for the Kvisselby, Swden native too. 30 games with the Flyers, 28 games with Adirondack, six weeks on the sidelines with a wrist injury, and lots of traveling back and forth between Glens Falls and Philadelphia depending on whether the Flyers needed him or not.

"It's a lot of travelling but it's travelling you're happy to do".Gustafsson said. "You want to be up there and getting experience. It's been a pretty good year for me. If you told me I was going to play 30 NHL games before the season I would be pretty happy and take it any day. On top of that, I was injured and out for awhile so if you think about that it's been pretty good."

As for scoring such a big goal in an NHL playoff game a big smile comes over Erik's face: "I don't know. You're so happy you can't even describe what you're feeling. And then I'm glad we got the win on top of that. It's just been a great day." Gustafsson continued, "I was just trying to put the puck on net and I was trying to get a change. And then the puck hit the net and I was just like 'Wow' and then the whole arena just exploded. It's incredible to play in front of these fans and as loud as they can be. It's unbelieveable."

Gustafsson has been preparing for a moment like this for quite awhile. Don't just look at the 30 games he played with the Flyers this year though. One should also go all the way back to the end of last season when he received his first call-up from Adirondack to the Black Aces playoff practice squad and got a sense of the intensity of being around an NHL playoff atmosphere.

"Yeah, I think it helped because you come down here and you're ready to play. You don't know what's going to happen." But when it actually came time to get in there into playoff action himself, he certainly didn't have much time to get his game-face on. "Yeah, I didn't really think that was going to happen so fast. I was hoping to get an opportunity down the road. I'm really happy I got the opportunity and I'm just going to try to make the most of it."

What also helped was his first season in pro hockey as a rookie defenseman with the Phantoms in 2010-11 when he gained all that confidence to excel at the professional level. He played in 72 games and notced 49 points including 44 assists to lead the team. Erik also represented the Phantoms at the AHL All-Star Game and then was honored again for his hard work and successful campaign by being named to the AHL All-Rookie Team at the end of the season.

But it's not just the assists to his teammates or the occasional big goal that defines the young blueliner. Gustafsson can move the puck. That is, he can REALLY move it. So much so that he even won the AHL's puck-handling contest at the AHL All-Star Classic Skills Competition last season. That is the type of thing you would expect to be won by a speedy center, right? Gustafsson sure spoiled that stereotype by winning it for the D-Men.

And don't forget to go back to his defense. That's the title of his position after all. He defended quite strongly on Sidney Crosby and kept up with one of the best players in the league. He also blocked a team-high seven shots as part of Philadelphia's major mission to shore up their support of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and keep Pittsburgh's scoring chances low.

Seven blocks, a +3 rating, helping hold Sidney Crosby to a -3 rating, and his first career playoff goal that practically finished the whole series. All from a guy who wasn't even with the team for games one through three. He was back with Adirondack, just as he had been for much of the season. Continuing to fine-tune his game for this incredible moment on the big stage.

 

 




 
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