Liar liar: Jonas Gustavsson’s phantom Saturday start


Kevin McGran, in his story about James Reimer getting Saturday’s start in Boston, wrote that head coach Ron Wilson had been only “indicating that Reimer would only back up in Boston.” At Friday’s practice, the Leafs coach said that “more than likely [the starter] is going to be [Jonas] Gustavsson”.

Later in the same scrum, Wilson replied to a question whether he was “being definitive” in the selection of the starting goalie with “I’m not being definitive on anything.”

And yet, a couple of members of the Toronto Maple Leafs media circuit have decided that Wilson was lying to the press about the goaltender selection. The headlines said that Gustavsson would start Saturday night, and it was announced earlier Saturday morning that Reimer would get his first start since coming back from a head injury.

Did it matter in the long run? No. The Leafs lost 4-1 on Saturday to the Cup Champion Bruins.

Doug Smith of the Toronto Star wrote

The coach, who I may have spoken to or listened to three or four times in my life and really have no opinion on as a person, comes out Friday afternoon and says something to the effect that, yes, The Monster will be the goaler in Boston on Saturday because The Kid With Or Without The Concussion isn’t ready and will be the backup.

I have to ask exactly what Smith was listening to. Wilson never came out and un-equivocally stated that Gustavsson would be the starting goalie on Saturday. Rather, it seems, he told the young Swedish Monster to prepare as if it were a start in case Reimer wasn’t able to go.

The contention really should be from Wilson’s post-practice conference on December 3rd before the game against Boston.

Reporter “When did you make the decision?”

Wilson “About three days ago”.

Wilson ducked a follow-up question (I can’t really tell from who) on why he kept the starting goalie under wraps, calling the issue “ad nauseum” but most reporters in the scrum didn’t really seem to take issue with being apparently lied to. In both the Friday and Saturday morning scrums, Wilson kept pressing how Reimer really felt like he was in game shape.

So who was lied to? Was Smith? Was Damien Cox, who went on a Twitter rampage Sunday, calling Wilson’s tactics “deception” and repeatedly calling Wilson some form of a “liar” and accused him of “[misleading] media”.

Keep in mind, this is from a man who once wrote that:

Everyone has obstacles, and part of our job is to overcome them.

This is indubitably true. The role of the hockey journalist is a tough one. Being a beat-writer is a tough career. It involves long days and many frequent flier miles to get out small bits of information to the public that they can’t find anywhere else. When you put a piece of information out there, you want to do your due diligence to make sure it’s true lest you end up with egg on your face.

However, nobody did end up with the proverbial egg on face. Everybody is aware that Ron Wilson, for whatever reason, switched his goalies. The quick flip-flop by Wilson, which wasn’t so much “Gustavsson” flipped to “Reimer” but appears to be more “there is no definitive starter” flopped to “we had a definitive starter three days ago”.

Who knows if there was any hockey parlance involved, if Wilson was offering quotes to the media to stand firmly behind that night’s starting goaltender. Many teams don’t release their starters until game day. Leafs General Manager Brian Burke said via his Twitter account that Wilson made a switch, as is a coach’s prerogative.

A mistruth or two is an obstacle like any other, like sifting through player clichés to find meaningful stories. Sometimes you can avoid that by asking the right follow-up question and hope to catch somebody off-script. It’s what you’re taught in journalism school. Other times it is about finding the right source.

The public interest isn’t better served if the Toronto Maple Leafs don’t definitively say who the starting goalie is 24 hours before the game. It is the role of the diligent sports media to discover that. Cox was not lied to. Smith was not lied to. They weren’t in the Friday scrum, and they weren’t individually addressed. It’s not as if Wilson called up the sports departments of the Sun, Star and Globe and said “Jonas Gustavsson is our starter on Saturday night. Book it.” Even McGran, who was in the Friday scrum and wrote the game day story, didn’t seem to be fazed.

From personal experience, I was once told to “f*** off” by a basketball coach when asking about whether or not a basketball player would play in a game, 30 minutes before tip-off. I recognized this as simply one of the obstacles of my job, and talked to the player after the game to discover that he was always going to be in the lineup.

So which of these reporters with access is going to ask Jonas Gustavsson what he thinks about this and what he was really told. If a reporter can get him on record saying that he was lied to about not getting the start on Saturday, then you have a story.