Baertschi drooling over possibility of playing with Gaudreau
Top Flames prospect back skating after putting “concussion-like” symptoms behind him
Sven Baertschi allowed himself to daydream a Thursday morning upon witnessing Team USA beat up on Canada 5-1 at the world junior hockey championship.
For Baertschi’s NHL rights belong to the Calgary Flames, just like rising U.S. star Johnny Gaudreau.
Over in Russia, Gaudreau scored two goals against Canada to give him a tournament-leading seven tallies.
And while they both play left wing, Baertschi envisions a day when he’ll line up alongside the diminutive American sniper.
Flames fans can only dream.
“The first couple of games, he had a bunch of chances but just couldn`t capitalize,” Baertschi said Thursday after practice with the American Hockey League Abbotsford Heat. “And then he had that one game where he had the hat-trick, and then he got all this confidence.
“He’s not the tallest guy, but he’s unreal to watch. Quick hands, very fast, and just smart . . . So it`s fun to see him play.”
Watching Gaudreau play is fun. Lining up against him is quite another.
Baertschi, 20, knows that from experience.
“During camp and stuff, when we had these scrimmages, I always played against him, and I hated it,” Baertschi said. “He was just weaseling around out there. You try to find him sometimes, and it’s just like, ‘oh, where is he?’ And then there he is. He scores.”
Like Gaudreau, scoring comes naturally to Baertschi. After averaging two points a game in his final season with the Portland Winterhawks, the Swiss sensation amassed six goals and 17 points in his first 19 games with the Heat.
Then came the hit on Nov. 30 against Hamilton that ground his season to a halt.
“I passed the puck from my left side to the right side,” Baertschi said. “I was kind of looking where the puck went, and I let my body go loose.
“Then some guy, I can’t remember who it was, but he hit me either with his elbow or shoulder just right in my head.”
No one is calling it a concussion, but the top prospect in the Flames organization — perhaps Gaudreau belongs in that conversation these days — clearly suffered “concussion-like” symptoms.
The main point of impact, however, appeared to be his neck.
“I had bad vision and everything,” Baertschi said. “It wasn’t the most comfortable thing, I would say.
“Imagine, pull your skull forward, and then you lift it up, and just put it on a little bit to the left and a little bit crooked. That’s what happened to my neck, and so I had to fix that. There were just a bunch of things that were sprained and stuff. It was weird.
“It’s hard to get back from something like that.”
Hard, but not impossible. After missing 13 games, Baertschi practised for the second time with the team Thursday and pronounced himself 100 per cent ready to go.
The decision, however, comes down to head coach Troy Ward and Flames assistant general manager John Weisbrod.
“It ended up being predominantly a neck thing,” Weisbrod said. “He just got hit and his head sort of slung back. He had some mild concussion symptoms in the beginning, but I think it was mostly a neck (injury), a whiplash-type of effect. The doctors came to the conclusion that most of it was in his neck.
“He’s been very diligent about doing his rehab. We’ve been extremely conservative and cautious about every step in making sure that we’re not rushing him along, that we’re seeing the big picture.”
In the big picture, this is the second “head” or “neck” incident for Baertschi in a calendar year.
He experienced a similar injury last year playing for Switzerland at the world junior hockey championships.
“He does take a lot of hits,” Weisbrod said. “He wants the puck on his stick and he tends to retain the puck, hold the puck, in traffic. He leaves himself susceptible sometimes to some of those hits. It’s a testament to his courage and his desire to get things done.
“But I did watch some of those games sort of shrinking back in my chair at the situations he put himself in. And obviously, he put himself in one that did result in an injury.”
Flames fans can only hope Baertschi stays healthy, so he can one turn their fantasy into reality and play with Gaudreau.
If and when that happens, Baertschi already has a plan.
“I’m just going to go back door all the time, and hope he’s going to pass it to me,” he said. “Then I’ll just put it in.”
— With files from Scott Cruickshank
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