Sven Baertschi was having the kind of first pro season that any team’s fans can get excited about. Picking up 17 points in 19 games was a very solid debut to the season; then he went flying into the boards.
Baertschi sat out the entire month of December recovering. He finally returned last weekend for the two-game set against the Rochester Americans. He picked up an assist and two shots on Friday night, as the Heat went down 5-2 despite firing 50 shots at the Americans’ net. Saturday night he looked back to his old self, using his speed to challenge the Amerks’ defencemen. He didn’t pick up any points but he took four shots.
Late in the third, Sven pulled away from the Rocherster defence only to be hauled down. He didn’t score on the subsequent penalty shot, but he showed confidence. Despite being just 20 years old and 20 games into his pro career, Baertschi looks ready to make the parent club.
After Saturday’s game we caught up with Sven and talked about his comeback from injury, World Juniors, Swiss hockey and his hockey memories.
Patrick Johnston: You didn’t score, but that was a nice effort on your shootout attempt…
Sven Baertschi: Ya it was close, really close. I knew that he’s really quick down with his pads – I was trying to pick up some speed and make sure that he was far out and then try to go around him. I was just about around him but he stuck his pad out and just got the puck. It was a good save, there.
PJ: You got a few breaks out there tonight, how did you feel about your game?
SB: It was good, I felt back to normal. Yesterday’s game, it was hard to get used to it again at the start. It’s been a whole month since I’d played a game. But tonight I felt back to normal. I created a lot of chances; you know if your team plays well, you play well. Most of the time.
PJ: You had a good start to the season What was the toughest part of the transition, coming out of junior, even with your taste with the Flames last year?
SB: Definitely less space and more hitting. I think sometimes the passes are not as crisp because there’s a lot of hits out there and there’s a lot of broken plays. When I was playing with Ty Rattie last year – he was just in the World Juniors – it was always tape-to-tape passes…it was a big thing getting used to not having every pass on your tape. I’ve been working hard on that every practice, it’s going well.
PJ: A few of your teammates from Portland were playing in the World Juniors, you mentioned Rattie, but also Seth Jones and others. How was it watching for you?
SB: Congrats to Seth Jones, he had a great tournament. For Canada, it was a little tough for them, but that can happen sometimes. I was really happy with the way Team Switzerland played, I thought it was unreal – they played at the best level and every game was really hard and they competed really well. You look back a couple years ago, when they’d play against Sweden maybe it wasn’t such a close game – or against Canada or USA – but it was great.
PJ: What’s been the key to that success? You said over the past few years, I was going to say ten years, anyway, what do you think is the key to the rise of Swiss hockey?
SB: Tough to say, the development overall got better at home. A lot more guys are jumping into the Elite Leagues (sic), even the B League or the A league. Certain guys come over and they play in the CHL and that’s good for our development too – later on, when they go back, they can play World Juniors, or World Championships, or Olympics, you can pick out the guys that played in North America.
PJ: Do you think that’s something that you and Nino [Niederreiter] have on you now, that the two of you have shown a bit of a path, that teams are going to go look for other Swiss players?
SB: Maybe, it started back with Luca Sbisa, he was the first guy. Or Roman Vyk, they were the first guys who jumped into the WHL. Then later it was Nino, and I talked to him a lot during the whole season and he was really excited. I talked to my agent and said “I’ve got to go! I want to play somewhere over there.” It’s a good experience for a young game, go away from your family, don’t know the language. It was a good experience for me personally, it helped a lot overall.
PJ: What’s your best hockey memory?
SB: Just being part of a winning team both seasons in Portland. It was exciting because every time you go out on the ice, you knew you were the better team.
That kind of thing really excites me. I’m a really competitive guy, and I was fortunate to be on that team. To have twice gone into the finals, even if we didn’t make it. We were really close.
And then the world juniors, and Calgary for one game – then the injury happened – those things are great memories.
PJ: What’s the toughest memory?
SB: Losing game seven against Edmonton there. You go your whole season, hoping to win the cup, one game settles everything, that’s tough to have it go against you two years in a row.
PJ: What the hardest thing you do to prepare for the season?
SB: The whole preparation during the summer. I remember last year, I was going into camp, I’d just been drafted and I didn’t really know exactly what was going on. I wanted to see how it goes.
Going into this year I’ve worked even harder than I did the year before. I knew this year there’d be a chance to make the team. After I’d played with them [the Flames] last year, playing well and then ending up going home. I wanted to relax at first but then I quickly got back at it. It was almost to my limit sometimes but it really paid off. I started the season and till now I’m fine, it’s just the injury that happened but overall my body is fine. Playing against big guys you’ve got to be prepared, you’ve got to work hard in the summer.
PJ: Was there one thing in particular that you hate doing as part of your preparation?
SB: No, there’s nothing that I really hate to do. With my trainer we do funs things too that are actually still a workout. The whole summer, you just want to get back out there on the ice, you want to be around your team. Being in Switzerland during the summer doesn’t make it easy but on the other side I’m fortunate to have my whole family in Switzerland. I spend a lot of time with them. There’s nothing I really hate about hockey I’d say – the off-season is just another part of that.
PJ: Do your parents get to see you play?
SB: Both of my parents have watched every game so far. To know that they are getting up at 4 in the morning to watch, that’s a great feeling.
Baertschi clearly brings a consistent commitment and passion to the game. Calgary fans will no doubt get to see it if, or rather when, he makes the Flames.