Baertschi’s play gives Flames fans hope despite aging roster, lockout

 

Swiss sensation has eight points in eight games for Abbotsford

 
 
 
 
Sven Baertschi has been a sensation for the Abbotsford Heat during his first American Hockey League season.
 

Sven Baertschi has been a sensation for the Abbotsford Heat during his first American Hockey League season.

Photograph by: Rick Collins

Minor league journeyman Ben Walter is dominating, as always, as the centre of the first line for the Abbotsford Heat.

But the wily veteran knows the topic up for discussion is something –or someone- else entirely when a reporter calls from Calgary.

“No worries at all,” Walter says over the phone during a three-game American Hockey League road trip this weekend to Cleveland and Hamilton, where Abbotsford lost 2-1 on Sunday. “It’s a pleasure.”

Today’s subject: the resounding start of young Sven Baertschi in to his professional hockey career playing on the top line with Walter and Dustin Sylvester.

Through eight games, the Portland Winterhawks graduate has three goals, eight points and 12 penalty minutes — giving Flames fans envious of the Edmonton Oilers talent pool at least one major reason for optimism for the future.

Add in the torrid start to the season for Baertschi’s roommate Roman Horak (seven goals and eight points in eight games), and the long-term forecast is definitely less grim than some people in these parts realize.

“First of all, he’s just a great kid,” Walter said of Baertschi, his new left-winger. “He’s very positive all the time. He loves to be around the rink. He loves to play the game.

“And when you get out there with him, for how skilled he is, he really works hard on the ice. He battles for pucks, and he makes it easier for us to play with him. And then every once in a while, he gets the puck on his stick and you see that skill come out.”

No one in the Flames organization questions the pure skill of Baertschi, a first round (13th overall) pick in the 2011 draft. After all, the Swiss sniper averaged two points a game last year in Portland. In five appearances as an emergency replacement last season in Calgary, Baertschi collected three goals.

So the sensational start (some may call it Svensational) comes as little surprise to anyone in Calgary.

The kid is even garnering ink in the Vancouver media market where most of the Heat focus comes only when the Chicago Wolves (farm team of the Canucks) come to town.

“I’m still learning,” Baertschi said. “I am trying to adjust to the league and everything, but it’s been good so far. It’s a little tougher to play. There’s more hitting. There’s bigger guys to play against.”

By all accounts, Baertschi is managing just fine in that department, holding his own at five-foot-11, 189 pounds.

“For me personally it’s good that two years ago I had the chance to play with the men’s league at home,” said Baertschi, who turned 20 earlier this month. “So I’ve kind of adjusted to the way it was back then.”

General manager Jay Feaster fully intended on having Baertschi start the season with the big team in Calgary. Alas, the NHL lockout is dragging on with no end in sight.

As such, Baertschi is making himself at home in Abbotsford — in more ways than one. Together with his girlfriend Laura, he has found his first apartment and is even on the hunt for a new addition to the family.

“I want a Siberian Husky,” Baertschi said. “It’s a really good-looking dog. A really nice dog. I think they’re really protective. They get really close to you. I’ve read a couple books about them. They need a lot of walking and a bunch of things.

“It’s definitely not a dog for older people.”

At 28, Walter could very well qualify as “old” in Baertschi’s eyes.

“He’s a confident kid,” said Walter, who has two goals and seven points in six games. “He knows he can make plays, and he can do stuff on the ice. He’s really confident on the ice. Off the ice, he’s quiet. He’s fun to be around. He’s not cocky or anything like that.”

Most of the time, Walter, 28, expects rookies making the jump from junior to experience growing pains in their first twirl in the professional ranks.

So far, Baertschi is the exception to the rule.

“He has adjusted very well,” Walter said. “He seems to have everything together off the ice, which can be a problem for younger guys. But he’s taking care of himself off the ice.

“I think that translates into being comfortable on the ice.”

The Heat (4-1-2) sit in second place in the AHL North Division behind only the Rochester Americans, farm team of the Buffalo Sabres.

vhall@calgaryherald.com

 
 
 
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Sven Baertschi has been a sensation for the Abbotsford Heat during his first American Hockey League season.
 

Sven Baertschi has been a sensation for the Abbotsford Heat during his first American Hockey League season.

Photograph by: Rick Collins

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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