Friday, March 02, 2007

More Bengt for Your Buck

It's Friday, which means bad puns. Sorry.

The surprise appearance of former Caps' center Bengt Gustafsson at last night's Caps-Lightning game seems as good a time as any to delve deeper into the history and lore that surrounded Gustafsson's tenure with the Capitals.

Gustafsson was selected 55th overall in the 1978 amateur draft, a year which saw the Caps take other notable future stars of the NHL like...Mark Toffolo...and Ray Irwin (whose professional career consisted of exactly 3 IHL games). It wasn't a total bust of a year, however, as the Caps also selected Ryan Walter 2nd overall and Lou Franceschetti 71st.

It's interesting to note that Bengt elected to stay in Sweden for another year after being drafted, joining the Caps for the 1979-80 campaign...much like another Swedish center I can think of.

If you compare his numbers with the stars of the day, he probably falls somewhere in the middle - consistent 20-goal scorer, twice as many assists as goals, etc. But for the Caps at this time, he was one of the first of a long line of goal scorers and playmakers who came to DC in the early to mid 80s. As a rookie he set the franchise record for points by a rookie at 60 and assists by a rookie at 32...obviously both have been broken a few times since. Through nine seasons with the Caps, he posted 555 points (196 goals, 359 assists) in 629 games before

Frequently a fan favorite here in DC, Gustafsson was someone who basically just fascinated me. I didn't know his stats or how responsible he was in his own zone, nor did I care. As a 5, 6, 7 year old Caps fan, it was the little things that drew my attention. For one thing, his name was so long it wrapped around his shoulders (as did Franceschetti's, incidentally), which for some reason I found funny. For another, his helmet was so strange looking that it made his head look oddly out of proportion with his body. And as a kid, what more could you want?

Gustafsson left DC after the 1988-89 season to return to Sweden, where he has remained ever since. His coaching resume has become much more impressive than his records as a player, and was appointed the head coach for the Swedish national men's ice hockey team in 2005. He was at the helm as the Swedish men won both Olympic gold and the IIHF World Championship in the 2006 - the first coach in history to win both in the same year.

It was pretty special to see him at the game last night, and according to my well-connected reader Victor, this was his first return to DC since leaving. He got a terrific ovation as one would expect. I think everyone would agree that it was great to see him back...

(Incidentally, because I don't remember all that much about his actual stats and facts, I was forced to use that cold, faceless resource, Wikipedia. I'm sure many of you out there are, shall we say, more experienced and would have some great Bengt stories to tell. I invite you to add your own memories to the comments section so we can all share!)

1 comment:

Smitty said...

Think we could talk him into coming over and coaching here? I'm not necessarily a Hanlon hater, but I do get sick of that trap he loves so much. Unleash Ovechkin!

Sadly I have no memories of Bengt as my family did not move to the DC area until a year after he was gone. I was a Kevin Hatcher / Al Iafrate kid.