Bartschi brilliant in Winterhawks' Game 5 victory
Sven Bartschi had been uncharacteristically quiet in the Western Hockey League's Western Conference finals.
The Winterhawks' 18-year-old left wing - the WHL rookie of the year for scoring 34 goals and 85 points in 66 regular-season games - had gone without a goal in the first four games of Portland's series with Spokane. In 14 playoff games, he had only three goals.
In Saturday's Game 5, the Swiss native was the noisiest player on the Rose Garden ice, scoring a goal, launching one of the prettiest passes you'll ever see for another score and making his presence felt at the defensive end in a 3-2 Portland victory.
Big stage, too, from both a personal and team standpoint.
The victory gives the Hawks a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series, with a chance to wrap things up Monday night at Spokane and write a ticket to a WHL finals showdown with Kootenay. And the draft-eligible Bartschi couldn't have hurt his chances for the June 24-25 NHL draft.
'Bartschi was our best player, for sure,' Portland coach Mike Johnston said. 'There were probably 20, 25 scouts here watching the game, and they're scrutinizing every move (the players) make. They're trying to figure out where he's going to fit into the draft.
'Bartschi stood up tonight. He showed those guys, 'Hey, I'm ready for anything.' "
Portland didn't make the 5-10, 185-pound Bartschi the seventh pick in the 2010 Canadian Hockey League import draft for his defense. But there he was, diving face first to block a Spokane slap shot in the closing moments of the biggest game of the season for the Hawks.
'He's a Swiss kid,' Johnston said, smiling. 'They aren't used to going down to block shots. He's learning how to play this North American game, learning how to battle. I really like that in his game, because he's so skilled.'
Portland center Craig Cunningham, a native of Trail, British Columbia, paid his teammate the ultimate compliment afterward with this: 'He looked like a Canadian out there, diving at shots. ... He played unbelievable tonight.'
Bartschi had plenty of good scoring opportunities in the first four games, to no avail. So maybe it was a case of the odds evening out when, late in the second period Saturday night, Joe Morrow's slap shot went off Bartschi's stick into the net for Portland's first goal, tying the score at 1-1.
'I was kind of surprised," Bartschi said, adding kiddingly, 'I just closed my eyes and thought, 'Hit my stick, hit my stick.'
'I've had so many chances (in the series), I should have scored, but sometimes they don't go in. Tonight, that one was kind of lucky, but it went in.'
With little more than eight minutes left in the third period and the Hawks clinging to a 2-1 lead, Bartschi made the play of the game - a pass from near the Portland goal line to the Spokane blue line, where Cunningham was waiting to take the puck in for what proved to be the game-winner.
'The puck came back to me and I saw Cunningham on the far blue line and I was like, 'I'll try it out, you never know,' " Bartschi said. 'It worked pretty well.'
I'll say. Give credit, too, to Cunningham for skating to the right spot.
"(Ryan) Johansen changed, and I'm not sure if (the Chiefs') D-man was up, but I saw a little seam there,' Cunningham said. 'A guy with that skill is going to find me. (Bartschi) put it right on my stick.'
Johnston loved every second of Bartschi's brilliance on the play.
'First, he back-checked in our zone,' the Portland coach said. 'He was the first guy back. He picked off the puck. A lot of players at that time, being tired, would have just thrown the puck out.
'If I'm ever on Bartschi, it's because he sometimes tries to make too many plays. But give the guy credit - he can make plays. For a guy who does that 10 times and maybe messes up once, I'll take that. Cunningham took off, and for (Bartschi's) awareness that he was out there ... that's a special play he made.'
People in the Winterhawk organization compare Bartschi with Marian Hossa, the centerpiece of the 1998 Memorial Cup champion Hawks. I covered that team, and I see some similarities, though Hossa - 6-2 and then 200 pounds - was much bigger. They're both left-handed shooters who can make magic happen with the puck on their stick.
Bartschi has another thing in common with Hossa.
'The thing about 'Bartsch,' he really cares,' Portland assistant coach Travis Green said. 'He wants to be a player. His work ethic is second to none. Guys like that, even if he doesn't score for a game, two games, three games, you know eventually he's going to.
'He took a big step tonight. He showed some character, going down to block that shot. That's the kind of things at this level you try to instill, because they're not used to having to do that. If you want to be a pro, you have to make that sacrifice. He's the kind of kid who will do that.
'It's nice to see him get rewarded tonight. He hasn't had the series he'd like to so far, but it's not ever for lack of effort.'
Bartschi's longest season in Switzerland, Johnston said, was probably 45 games.
'It's been a long season for him,' the Portland coach said. 'He needs to learn how to play 90 games.'
Bartschi is at 81 and counting. No time to rest, not with Spokane on the brink of elimination, and another challenge in Kootenay waiting.