Abbotsford Heat benefit as NHL labour woes set to delay Baertschi’s first full season with Flames
The original game plan called for left wing Sven Baertschi to officially launch his NHL career this weekend at Calgary Flames rookie camp.
But with Gary Bettman and the owners on the verge of locking out the players, the ultimate objective will have to wait.
Next stop: the Abbotsford Heat, of the American Hockey League.
“I’m still holding out a little bit of hope that it works out with the NHL, but I guess it’s not looking too good,” Baertschi said Friday, in a massive understatement. “I mean, I don’t really know exactly what to expect in Abbotsford, but I kind of like it that way.
“I like little surprises and stuff.”
Baertschi, 19, will have plenty of company in unravelling the mysteries that await in Abbotsford. With the clock ticking down to a lockout, the Flames assigned 18 players to their AHL affiliate Friday, including Baertschi, centre Max Reinhart and right wing Ryan Howse.
Other highlights on the Abbotsford list include three players with considerable NHL experience in defenceman T.J. Brodie, centre Roman Horak and left wing Lance Bouma.
“I’d rather be playing games than just working out and skating with a couple guys,” said Brodie, who suited up for the Flames 54 times in 2011/12 before suffering a season-ending head/neck injury in March. “I think it will be really good for me to get back playing some games.
“I just want to get back in the swing of things. I learned a lot last year. I want to keep working on the defensive side of my game and try to produce offensively too. That’s always been a part of the game that I’ve used to my advantage.”
Barring a sudden change in the NHL labour situation (fat chance), Troy Ward will have a talented crew at his disposal, including two of the top prospects in the organization in Baertschi and Reinhart.
“I’m excited to play pro hockey either way this fall,” said Reinhart, a graduate of the Western Hockey League’s Kootenay Ice. “I’m taking it as a good thing.
“No one really knows what’s going to happen in the next couple of weeks or days.”
Like Baertschi, Reinhart originally planned on showcasing his skills this weekend in Calgary at rookie camp.
Report date for Abbotsford training camp is Sept. 28.
“This gives me a chance to stay in the gym and get bigger and stronger,” said the six-foot-one Reinhart, who weighs in around 190 pounds. “That’s been the downfall of my game — that I’m not as big as a pro hockey player yet.
“I’m getting there and this buys me a little more time.”
The players aren’t the only ones choosing to look at the positives — however small — of an absolutely brutal situation for anyone who loves the game of hockey.
Martin Gelinas can’t wait for his first day on the ice as an NHL assistant with the Flames, but he also sees a silver lining in the potential time in the AHL for this group of prospects.
Including the star of the show: Baertschi.
“He is still a young kid,” Gelinas said. “He needs to mature. You know what? The American Hockey League is a good league. It’s a hard league. All of those guys are looking for a job, and most of them are looking for a job in the NHL. So it’s kind of survival mode. He’s going to go there and he’s going to have to find a way to make it happen.
“It’s a grind, and they’re men. They’re older, and they all want it. So, to me, it’s a great opportunity to keep developing, And hopefully when the season starts at some point, he’ll be absolutely ready.
Always up for a challenge, Baertschi plans to follow that strategy, even if it is his Plan B.
“Maybe the NHL isn’t meant to be right now,” he said. “I was really looking forward to training camp and everything, but it’s the way it is.
“Maybe it’s good. On the other side of things, maybe it will be a good learning process for me. I have a lot of things to learn, and I think it’s good I go step by step so one day I can play in the NHL.”
Depending on the willingness of Bettman and Donald Fehr to strike a deal, that day could be a long way down the road.
C-Notes: Other players assigned to Abbotsford include: forwards Carter Bancks, Tyler Elson, Michael Ferland, Gaelen Patterson, Ben Street, Mitch Wahl, Bryan Cameron, David Eddy, and Greg Nemisz. Defencemen Chris Breen, James Martin and Brody Lamb will also make the trek to B.C. The Flames also assigned goalie Joni Ortio to HIFK Helsinki of the Finnish Elite League. They also waived forwards Akim Aliu, Paul Byron, Krys Kolanos, Ben Walter and defencemen Joe Piskula, likely with the intent of assigning them to Abbotsford.
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