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Best of Bengt

This was something of a theme.

With the news that the Caps drafted the child of Bengt, this seemed a good time to comb through the Post archives for the Best of Bengt Gustafsson, from the eve of the 1980s till the eve of the 1990s.

What did I learn? Europeans had a reputation for being skillful but soft, Canadians for being burly and thuggish and not anxious to be shown up. D.C. hockey officials lamented that their down-to-business players didn't get the attention of the flashier Redskins. The District had a bad reputation on crime, and the Wilson Bridge had a bad reputation on traffic. Amazing, all.

These excerpts were all written by either Robert Fachet or William Gildea, and by all means, tell me what I'm missing here. The general theme: Bengt was a lover, not a fighter. Background here. Foreground here. In chronological order:

Dec., 1979: For some Americans a favorite sport this Christmas is throwing a dart at a likeness of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. For some Canadians, notably players in the National Hockey League, similar pleasure is derived from jabbing a stick into a Swede....

"There is much dirty stuff," said Washington rookie Bengt Gustafsson. "I guess they think if they hit me one time, I won't come back the next time. "You have to accept it. That's the way they play here."

Washington Coach Gary Green, himself a Canadian, does not accept it, but he does not foresee any sudden change in attitude, by either players or officials.

"Take a look at Gussy's forearms and shoulders and you'll see where he's been hit constantly by sticks," Green said. "That's how too many Canadian players have geared themselves, because of the embarrassment the Swedes have caused them. They can't catch them, so they lay the lumber on them."

Oct., 1980: Ryan Walter took the role of jersey tugger in the lengthy battle and was the first to be kicked out of a riotous contest that produced 325 minutes in penalties and a 7-2 Washington victory. Disbelieving, Walter stood in the runway to the dressing room, a picture of outraged innocence....

Then there was Gustafsson, known affectionately to teammates as "the Swedish goon," who ignited the war by sidestepping Philly's charging Yves Preston, who wound up on his knees in pain.

"I saw him coming, so I took a step back and he hit the board. Then everybody went crazy," said Gustafsson, the two slash marks on his neck affirming the craziness of some of his opponents.

strong>Jan., 1984: After Bengt Gustafsson scored five goals Sunday night in the Washington Capitals' 7-1 rout of the Flyers in Philadelphia, he submitted to a television interview, returned to the locker room and tossed his jersey to clubhouse attendant Bob Garner for the laundry pile.

"Do you think we should wash it?" Garner asked.

"I don't know," Gustafsson replied....

The other day, General Manager David Poile was bemoaning the Capitals' seeming exclusion from the colorful media coverage that is given to the Redskins' Hogs, Fun Bunch, etc. Reminded that nobody was accustomed to doing high fives--or much of anything else in the way of celebration--after a goal, Poile said, "Yeah, I guess that's my fault. This is the kind of team I wanted, everybody playing for each other. I suppose winning will have to do the job for us."

It is nice to see modest, sincere togetherness. But how much more newsworthy if Gustafsson had answered Garner's query with something like "Send it to the Hockey Hall of Fame so they'll know how we Swedes get even for getting chopped by sticks all night."

Nov., 1985: Returning to action, Gustafsson was blasted into the boards from behind by Laurie Boschman. Again there was no penalty and when Gustafsson, forced to leave for the night and eventually to miss the next two games, complained to referee Dave Newell, he was slapped with an unsportsmanlike conduct minor.

"I just asked him if he was watching the same game I was," Gustafsson said. "I guess he wasn't. Next time I'll just talk about the weather."

March, 1986: Gustafsson and [Pat] Riggin became embroiled in the second period, after Riggin made a close-up stop on the Swede. Riggin shoved his goalie stick in Gustafsson's face and, after dropping the stick, tried to punch Gustafsson, who pushed him away. Both were penalized for slashing.

"The whistle came and he put his stick under my face mask," Gustafsson said. "I said, 'What are you trying to do?' and he tried to punch me. I don't know why he was mad at me. I was probably the only guy who didn't shoot high on him in practice when he was here."

Feb., 1987: In an interview Sunday in Stockholm, Gustafsson said the the Capitals were offering him "more than 10 times" what he earns in Sweden.

"Money isn't everything," Gustafsson said. "It's a lot, but not everything. The big thing anyway, right now, is playing for the Swedish national team. . . . Maybe I'll move back to America next year. Maybe I'll move somewhere in Europe."

Gustafsson said the reason for the uncertainty is that he is torn between his passion for hockey and a deep attachment he and his wife, Eva, have to their home town, Karlskoga.

"I feel more secure right here in Sweden and especially in a small town like Karlskoga," Gustafsson said. "A big part of it is that there is less crime. You watch the news in D.C. and there is always somebody killed or raped. It happens every day. The whole of Sweden doesn't have a murder every day and nobody really remembers when Karlskoga last had a murder."

May, 1987: Before meatballs were served to luncheon guests, Swedish Ambassador Wilhelm Wachtmeister gave his approval to Gustafsson's return [to the Caps], calling him "a good ambassador for Sweden in this country." The embassy office room was decorated with Swedish newspaper clippings of Gustafsson's heroics in the world championships.....

"I think he wants to add the Stanley Cup to the world championship," [GM David] Poile said of Gustafsson.

The Stanley Cup also was on [Abe] Pollin's mind. On the phone with Gustafsson, the owner asked, "When we win the Cup, what kind of beer do you drink?"

Nov., 1987: The current copy of "Good Times," the official Capital Centre publication, carries a cover picture of Gustafsson and an inside headline reading, "Man on a Mission." A quote from General Manager David Poile is highlighted: "No player . . . could have more of an impact on the team the next two seasons."

Dec. 1988:
Once on a radio call-in show [Gustafsson] was asked about the mauling Swedes take in the NHL and described it matter-of-factly with a four-letter word that shocked some listeners.

Shortly after Gustafsson arrived here, he shocked the Capitals' coach, Danny Belisle, by stickhandling through the entire Toronto team to put a shot on goal. Belisle advised Gustafsson that if he persisted in showing up rival players, they no doubt would chop him down in retaliation.

Still, it is hard for Gustafsson, with his powerful arms, remarkable reflexes and strong skating, not to make opponents look silly. In practice, he is so adept at playing keepaway that teammates frequently fall in frustration. He often does it in games, too, and sometimes finds a stick headed his way in response.

"Gus can fake out three guys while he's standing still," [Dave] Christian has said of his favorite linemate. "

Sept. 1989, during Caps tour of Sweden:
Gustafsson, who earned $ 450,000 each of the last two seasons in Washington, is making less than half that figure this year, but he had no complaints. Besides playing, he operates a company that imports and sells sports clothing and equipment. He also has a share in two harness-racing horses....

Each day except Saturday, Gustafsson undertakes a traffic-free 40-minute drive from his Karlsoga home to Karlstad for practice sessions.

"I think about the Wilson Bridge and trying to get to Mount Vernon," Gustafsson said. "And I think about playing 80 games, compared to 40 games here. Then there's the fighting. That doesn't belong in the game. You can't win anything by fighting."

By Dan Steinberg  |  June 23, 2008; 5:19 PM ET
Categories:  Caps  
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Next: Morning Look: Shoeless Saul


I foresee a blogger's name change in the not too distant future.

Posted by: Gustafsson | June 24, 2008 9:21 AM | Report abuse

Not to knock the guy or the tongue of his native land, but with a name as cool to our American ears as "Bengt," naming his kid "Anton" seems like a missed opportunity.

Can we get a second-generation Langway, and maybe a Hunter as well?

Posted by: Nate in the PDX | June 24, 2008 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Great post. These way back when quotes are gems.

Posted by: Stormblue | June 24, 2008 9:48 AM | Report abuse

In addition to his smooth skating and slick stickhandling, one thing that always stands out in my mind about Gustafsson--in addition to the five-goal game--was the game in Philly when he stood in front of the net and got slashed six or seven times in the legs by Ron Hextall. It was amazing that one of his legs didn't actually get chopped off that night. And of course, no penalty was called.

Posted by: Fingerman | June 24, 2008 10:09 AM | Report abuse

gotta love behn wilson in those cooperalls giving bengt a little "how's your father" with his knee. i suppose this picture was taken after bengt jr. was on the way...

love those helmets...

Posted by: Ouch | June 24, 2008 10:49 AM | Report abuse

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