Winterhawks need Swiss forward to help lead the offense
Wanting to spend plenty of time with his family, Sven Bartschi made four trips from North America to his native Switzerland in the offseason.
On one of the trips, after being selected 13th overall by the Calgary Flames in the NHL draft, Bartschi and his mother spent a week at a resort in Belek, Turkey, playing golf and enjoying the weather - and the pleasures of his signing bonus. His cell phone and computer were turned off, and Bartschi relaxed amid a very busy time in the career of the young Portland Winterhawks player.
'It was beautiful,' he says. 'I needed that.'
He made another trip home between the Calgary development camp and rejoining the Winterhawks for the 2011-12 season, and needed some time to adjust.
'I had trouble with time management,' he says. 'I was kind of tired every day.'
Now back and playing games with the Winterhawks, Bartschi will be counted upon to be one of the star players for the defending Western Hockey League Western Conference champs. In five games, he has scored two goals and contributed five assists.
Last season, he led all WHL rookies with 34 goals and 51 assists (85 points) in 66 games. He added 10 goals and 17 assists in 21 playoff games, virtually assuring himself a spot in the first round of the NHL draft.
A day after Calgary selected him, the organization gave him a contract offer, and Bartschi signed about two weeks later.
The 5-10, 185-pound Bartschi had a standout rookie camp with the Flames, and he played in three exhibition games with Calgary. But the Flames are not an organization that likes to rush prospects to the big league, Portland coach/General Manager Mike Johnston says, and Bartschi got sent back to the junior ranks.
The move didn't bother Bartschi.
'I knew the National Hockey League was still a big step,' says 19-year-old Bartschi, who is 18 in junior hockey terms. 'I wanted to try my best there and see what happens. They were impressed with how I played. Can't go wrong with another year of junior.'
Johnston says the Flames liked Bartschi's speed and quickness, and Bartschi says he found some success against the NHL players with more size.
Being able to handle bigger players is the one thing he needs to work on while back in junior hockey.
'If you can't win board battles in junior, you won't win any battles in the National Hockey League,' Bartschi says.
Johnston put Bartschi and Ty Rattie on the same line in Portland's first five games this season; rookie center Nic Petan joined them. Johnston also put Bartschi at center on a line with Rattie and Brad Ross, and with Ross and Taylor Leier, 'just to see how he plays there,' Johnston says. 'I thought he was pretty good.'
Johnston says Bartschi tried to make too many things happen in his first games back from NHL camp. That typically happens when prospects return to their junior teams.
'He adjusted quite quickly,' Johnston says. 'He has great habits and work ethic.'
Bartschi says he expects to be more of a leader for Portland this year. After all, the Winterhawks will likely be without overage players Brett Ponich, Oliver Gabriel, Taylor Aronson and Riley Boychuk, who have all signed pro contracts and been assigned to American Hockey League affiliate clubs. And Portland figures to be without 19-year-old studs Nino Niederreiter (New York Islanders) and Ryan Johansen (Columbus Blue Jackets).
A lack of available playing time in the pros could potentially lead to any of those players returning to the Hawks, except Ponich, but it's doubtful at this point that any of them will play again for Portland.
'This is basically our team,' says Johnston, who sports the likes of Bartschi, Rattie and Ross on forward lines and Joe Morrow, Troy Rutkowski and potential NHL first-rounder Derrick Pouliot on defense.
The Winterhawks are off to a so-so 4-4-0-0 start, with three of the losses to U.S. Division rival Tri-City, which is undefeated against Portland this season.
The Hawks have 7 p.m. home games in Memorial Coliseum Friday with Kamloops and Saturday against Brandon, and then will play host there to Saskatoon at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Then comes a grueling stretch of nine road games, mostly in Alberta, Canada, in 16 days.
So, with the loss of several veterans and the demanding schedule, Bartschi can step up his leadership, and now is as good a time as any to do that.
'The team needs a couple of leaders, and guys respect me, look up to me, want to learn from me,' he says. 'I want to help out with everything on and off the ice.'