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(MIKE CASSESE)
(MIKE CASSESE)

Leafs' Swedes share common bond Add to ...

Leafs netminder Jonas Gustavsson lumbered into the dressing room after practice in full gear this afternoon, stopped in the middle of the room and started chattering at Freddy Sjostrom as the two stood amidst a crowd of people.

Defenceman Carl Gunnarsson then jumped in, quipped something quickly and the three laughed at a joke only the team's three Swedes could understand.

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Because they all play different positions, and other than Gustavsson are supporting players on the team, the bond between Toronto's Swedish players hasn't received a lot of attention. More than likely any other players on the roster, however, Sjostrom, Gustavsson and Gunnarsson have become close friends off the ice, sharing many nights off - and laughs - since Sjostrom arrived via a trade in late January.

"We spend a lot of time together," Gustavsson said. "Our girlfriends, too. We've got a Swedish mafia going on here."

Toronto only had two Swedish players on its roster for the entire season last year. Gustavsson and close friend Rickard Wallin came over from Farjestads of Sweden's Elitserien, something many speculated last season was a result of the young goaltender needing a familiar face in his first season in North America.

That hasn't been an issue this season, as Gustavsson has become much more comfortable in Toronto and formed a quick friendship with Gunnarsson, who was called up last November and stuck in the NHL for the past year.

Coach Ron Wilson said at practice today he expects Gustavsson to start both games this weekend - Friday in Buffalo and Saturday in Ottawa - as Jean-Sebastien Giguere continues to recover from a groin injury. Gustavsson has allowed only four goals in the 10 periods since Giguere went down with an injury and has moved up into a tie for 11th among regular starters in save percentage (.922).

Gustavsson said it helps to have fellow Swedes around, and the trio are planning on celebrating Christmas together in a traditional, Swedish fashion.

"I like the other guys on the team, too, but it's always nice to share traditions with the guys from the same culture," Gustavsson said. "We can talk about things, what's going on back home and stuff like that. It's great. They're not only Swedes, they're good guys, too."

All three live in downtown condos, with Sjostrom and Gunnarsson in the same building and Gustavsson a 15 minute walk away. Sjostrom is a movie buff and invites them out to see much of what's in theatres, while Gunnarsson is the PlayStation guru.

"He beats me in the NHL game, so I have to work on that," Gustavsson said.

Notebook

- Kris Versteeg's success playing the point on the power play (he has seven points overall in his last six games, including three power play goals) is something he's credited in part to watching former Blackhawks teammate Patrick Sharp man the point when they were together in Chicago. "I haven't done it for a while," Versteeg said. "In the minors, I did it a little bit here and there. This is something where it's a learning process. You want to make plays out there but also be safe and not give up too much. I think it's come along nicely."

- The Leafs leaned heavily on their third line against the Stars on Monday, with Versteeg, Tim Brent and Sjostrom getting the most ice time of any forward unit, an anomaly this season. "They had just in general a good game," Wilson said. "They had the puck, they did a good job cycling. Sometimes, and most coaches would agree, the best defence is to have the puck and you're not sitting back on your heels and that line was really good at puck possession the other night."

- Wilson on Giguere, who was skating before practice: "He's still a week or so away. That's the first time he's been on the ice. He didn't really take any shots. He's gradually working his way back in."

- Wilson on Colby Armstrong, who is out with a hand injury: "He's getting closer. He still needs to get some clearance from the doctor who did the surgery. Maybe next weekend he'll be ready. He still has to get his hand and forearm a lot stronger."

- And, finally, Mike Brown was doing a penalty killing drill and took a puck in the most sensitive of areas and left in considerable pain, something Wilson had a little fun joking about with the media, as you can hear below about 2:50 in.

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

 

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