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Jonas Gustavsson stands tall compared with his predecessors

I was trying to think of the last time the Leafs employed a goaltender who had both tons of skill – and size.

This made me do a quick mental history of guys I remember between the pipes for the Leafs.

When I was a kid, the Leafs had Eddie Chadwick, then Johnny Bower and later, Terry Sawchuk. None of them were particularly big in stature- all a little under 6 feet.
5 foot 9 inch Bruce Gamble held down the fort for the most part in the late 60s, followed by Jacques Plante (6 feet even) and Bernie Parent (5-10, though he looked bigger).

When that short-lived era ended, the Leafs went through a number of keepers- Doug Favell was the unorthodox but talented guy. He was also 5-10.

Dunc Wilson played here, as did Eddie Johnston toward the end of his career. Neither was over 6 feet.

In 1975, Wayne Thomas joined the Leafs. (We’ve included a photo of Thomas, along with shots of Leaf legend Johnny Bower and one-time Leaf Jacques Plante.) Now Thomas was a tall goalie at 6 feet, 2 inches (acquired from Montreal) but played a very different style from Gustavsson. Thomas started well with the Leafs, but wasn’t the long-term answer they were looking for and within a couple of seasons was replaced by the diminutive Mike Palmateer.

In the early 80s, youngsters Ken Wreggett (6 foot, 1) and little Alan Bester fought for the number one job off and on for years. Wreggett had some size, but was not like Gustavsson in terms of agility. The Leafs utilized a number of different guys through the late 80s and early 90s, briefly settling on former Edmonton Oiler star Grant Fuhr. 6 foot 1 (though he looked smaller to me) Felix Potvin was ‘the man’ during the Leafs two “final four” appearances in the early-to-mid 90s, eventually giving way to Curtis Joseph who was still in his prime when he spent 4 years with the Leafs in the late 90s and the early part of this decade.

Eddie Belfour, though near the end of his fine career, played some outstanding games in blue and white, succeeding Cujo.

Neither, though, was built like the new Leaf keeper.

As I’ve said in my recent post regarding Phil Kessel, it’s natural, though not always useful, to “compare” current players with those who played many years ago. Especially for goalies, the styles have changed radically from 20, 30 and 40 years ago.

But Gustavsson, at 6 foot 3, does remind me a bit, just a bit, of another tall (6 feet, 4), ultra-confident young goalie who seemingly came out of nowhere in 1971, covered lots of net, was nimble for his size and ultimately helped lead Montreal to 6 Stanley Cups.

His name was Ken Dryden, a Hall-of-Famer, now Liberal Member of Parliament and former President of the Maple Leafs.

I wouldn’t begin to suggest Gustavsson is in that league as a goalie yet, or necessarily ever will be.

Sometimes goalies break in to the league with a splash, then struggle.

But for now, it’s refreshing to see the Leaf cage protected by someone with the talent, ability and the size to make his teammates more confident, just as that Montreal goalie did almost 40 years ago.

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