Erik Gustafsson makes season debut with Flyers

Erik Gustafsson makes season debut with Flyers
February 16, 2013, 6:30 pm
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MONTREAL – Better late than never.
Erik Gustafsson finally made his season debut Saturday night at Bell Centre, but it wasn't because of Kimmo Timonen’s lower-body injury. Gustafsson replaced Kurtis Foster and was paired with Nicklas Grossmann. Apparently, Timonen's injury was not as serious as believed.
It’s been a while for him to crack the lineup because of a right foot fracture suffered in December during the lockout while he was playing for the Phantoms.
That prevented him from even competing for a job here in the Flyers' abbreviated camp.
“I blocked a shot and I didn't think it was that bad at the time, but I guess the MRI showed I had a fracture in my ankle and it took a few weeks too many for me [to heal],” Gustafsson said.
“It was tough news. It was mixed emotions. You were happy the league was starting up again ... get the game going. But at the same time, you want to be there to try to compete for a spot.
“It was kind of tough there for awhile, but you really can't think about it. I was trying to stay in good shape and look forward. Easier said than done, but that's what you have to do.
“Now I'm back, and I'm happy to be back, and I feel I've played pretty well here for the last four or five games for the Phantoms.”
Gustafsson shouldn’t feel too out of place with the Flyers right now. He played 46 regular season games a year ago and knows the systems coach Peter Laviolette employs.
“For sure, I'm a lot more confident this year,” the 24-year-old defenseman said. “I know kind of what to expect and I feel pretty confident that I'm going to bring a good game tonight.”
Laviolette often talks about how much Gustafsson grew in the playoffs last season, starting with the two games he played in the Pittsburgh series and continuing against New Jersey.
“He’s at the point where he wants to get here and get in the lineup on a regular basis,” Laviolette said. “It’s unfortunate what happened with the injury to start the year here.
“He had some real good games for us, that Pittsburgh series. What happened at the end of last year he can use that to build off  and improve at this level.”
Going into the game, Gustafsson did not know who his defensive partner was.
“Obviously, it's good if you've got chemistry with your D-partner, but all the players here are really good, so whomever I play with, I think it'll be working pretty good and we'll find chemistry pretty fast,” Gustafsson said.
He said his foot has been feeling progressively better and that he even pushed it a bit to see if there were any negative effects.
To make room for him, the club sent Andreas Lilja back down to the Phantoms.
“Obviously, this is where you want to play and this is where you want to be, but I've been trying to focus on my game,” Gustafsson said.
“The first couple games back with the Phantoms, I didn't think I played very well, so I wanted to focus on my game and play as well as I could, and then hopefully after that I'd get an opportunity.”
He wore a skate guard but the fact remains, he was wearing one with the Phantoms but was struck just above the guard, anyway.
One more. Gustafsson was driven here today from Glens Falls – a three-hour trip.

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