Struggling Heat hope sniper Sven Baertschi’s return will unleash offence
Swiss winger looks forward to playing Americans this weekend after five-week layoff with injury
Sven Baertschi strikes a pose at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft in St. Paul, Minn., in June 2011, where he was picked 13th overall by the Calgary Flames. The highly touted prospect has spent the 2012-13 season in the American Hockey League with the Flames’ Abbotsford Heat farm team, as the NHL has locked out its players.
Photograph by: Nick Laham, Getty Images
ABBOTSFORD — The dog days of December are over for Sven Baertschi and hopefully for the Abbotsford Heat as well.
Baertschi, the talented Swiss winger who has missed the past five weeks with a head/neck injury, spent much of last month literally walking his dog. And no, it’s not a St. Bernard.
“He’s a Siberian Husky,” Baertschi said Thursday of his three-month-old pup named Bear. “Sometimes when you have an injury it’s good to be around other things. I got him at eight weeks and it’s been neat to see him developing and growing up.
“That was a good thing about the injury. He needs a lot of activity so we went for a lot of walks, met some new people and so it was good. I got away a little bit from hockey and now I’m back into it.”
The timing of Baertschi’s return couldn’t be better for the Heat, who haven’t been the same team since the highly touted Calgary Flames prospect went down on Nov. 30.
The Heat were among the American Hockey League leaders with a record of 13-2-2-2 following their 5-1 win over Hamilton on Nov. 30. They enter Friday’s game at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre against Cody Hodgson and the Rochester Americans at 16-9-3-4.
The Heat, who begin an eight-game homestand Friday, have lost five of their last six games and goals have been tough to come by. Abbotsford won only three of 13 games in December and scored just 19 goals in the process.
The Heat hope the return of Baertschi, who practised for the second consecutive day on Thursday, will help. The 20-year-old had 17 points in 19 games before suffering his injury.
Baertschi pronounced himself ready to play after Thursday’s practice and coach Troy Ward said as long as Baertschi feels OK following Friday’s morning skate he’ll play against the Americans.
Ward stressed that it isn’t just Baertschi’s offensive ability that will benefit the Heat.
“Obviously he is going to help us individually, but I just think his demeanour and who he is will also help us,” Ward said. “There are certain people who are just enlightening in life and he is one of those guys. He wears his emotions on his sleeve, is always upbeat, is always positive. He just illuminates a room when he walks in, he’s that type of kid.”
Baertschi, of course, hasn’t just been walking his dog for the past month. He’s been keeping an eye on the NHL labour talks as well as the world junior tourney, where he was impressed by the play of some of his Swiss buddies.
Switzerland lost 4-3 in a shootout to Russia in the quarter-finals after earlier one-goal losses to the Czech Republic and Sweden.
Baertschi, who suffered a concussion during last year’s world junior tourney, said he thinks Swiss hockey is continuing to narrow the gap on some of the traditional European powerhouses such as Russia and Sweden.
“It’s getting there, it’s getting really close,” he said. “I know most of the guys on the team, and a lot of them actually play in the Quebec League or OHL or WHL, so it was exciting to see their improvement.
“I loved it, especially the game against Russia, you could totally tell that in certain areas we outplayed them and that’s exciting when on the other side you have guys who are first overall picks and we can compete against them.
“We’re close, we’re definitely not there yet, but we are really close ... It’s not a big gap and it used to be a big gap.”
Just how long Baertschi remains in Abbotsford will be determined in large part by how things unfold in New York during the current NHL labour talks. If a deal gets struck in time to salvage a shortened season, Baertschi is almost certain to start the season with the Flames.
After two solid seasons with the WHL Portland Winterhawks, where he had 179 points in 113 games, Baertschi impressed in a late-season call-up to the Flames. He scored three goals in his five-game stint in Calgary and expectations went through the roof for the team’s first-round pick (13th overall) in the 2011 draft.
Baertschi said he has been trying not to dwell on the NHL lockout, but joked that it’s difficult to avoid on Canadian TV.
“I try not to look at it too much, but when you turn on the TV in Canada it seems they are always talking about the lockout or the world junior,” he said. “Sometimes you hear good things, sometimes you hear bad things and lately it’s nice that you hear some good things.
“We’ll see how it goes. I just kind of go with the flow and see what happens because I can’t control anything. I just want to make the best of the situation I am in right now. I am looking forward to the upcoming games we have and that’s it for me.”
ICE CHIPS: Ward said it’s likely that goalies Danny Taylor and Barry Brust will split the starts in the two-game set against the Americans (Friday and Saturday nights at 7 p.m.) ... Taylor and his wife Danielle welcomed a baby boy into the world at about 2 a.m. New Year’s Day. Hudson Gregory David Taylor weighed in at seven pounds, 15 ounces.
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