December 26, 2011
All eyes on Baertschi
By Wes Gilbertson, QMI Agency
Swiss sniper Sven Baertschi was already expecting plenty of attention from his future employers during the world junior hockey championship.
Monday's email from Calgary Flames' director of player development Ron Sutter only confirmed it.
"I just got a message from Ron Sutter and he said, 'Just try to enjoy the whole thing. I'm coming and watching,' " Baertschi said prior to a late clash against the Russians Monday. "He just sent us a little heads-up to say, 'I'll be there to watch your games and make sure you try your best out there and work hard.'"
Sutter won't be the only guy keeping a close eye on the 19-year-old forward during preliminary-round action at the Saddledome.
The Flames selected Baertschi with the 13th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and with Team Canada completing their round-robin schedule three hours up the road in Edmonton, he could be the biggest attraction at the Saddledome this week.
Calgary's other representatives in the world junior tourney -- Team USA's Bill Arnold and Finland's Markus Granlund -- are also stationed at Rexall Place for preliminary action.
"Being in Calgary, it's special for me," Baertschi said. "It's fun when people tweet stuff or they write you on Facebook and say, 'Yeah, we're going to be cheering for Switzerland in this tournament.' People are excited I'm coming here and can play here. There are some people that already said they're going to wear my jersey for the world juniors.
"It's Canada, you know? People know you, people recognize you, people want to see something. There's for sure a little pressure because they want to see what they've got, who they drafted last year, but I'll just try to do my best and show those people Calgary made the right choice by drafting me.
"It's a great thing for me. I'm just really lucky right now to be coming here for the world juniors. When they sent me back, I was looking forward to this. I marked it on my calendar and said, 'I'm going back there around Christmastime.'"
It's a bit of a double-edged sword for the Flames.
If Baertschi struggles at the world junior tourney, some fans might question his status as the top prospect in the organization. If he shines, they'll wonder why he's spending this campaign with the Portland Winterhawks and not with the big club.
Despite missing two weeks with a minor hip injury, Baertschi currently sits seventh on the Western Hockey League's scoring charts with 12 goals and 42 assists in 25 outings.
After a solid showing in three pre-season games with the Flames this fall, he'll be facing pressure to not only provide scoring and leadership for Team Switzerland but also to put on a show for Calgary's hockey fans.
"I saw a lot of things when I was up here. I was kind of sad I didn't get to play more games, but they made the right decision sending me back," Baertschi said. "Getting another year of junior, I'll learn a lot of things. Now I can see how much it actually needs. I've worked on a lot of things during my time in Portland, and now I'm here and I'll try to show everybody.
"I want to show my skill-set, show my grit. I want to show those people I'm out there fighting for my country."
And fighting for a full-time job with the Flames as soon as next season.
On Twitter: @SUNGilbertson