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
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
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
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.