Juniors, prospects axed from Flames

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:18 AM ET

CALGARY - Their future with the Calgary Flames appears bright.

That didn’t take away the sting of being sent back to the junior ranks for either of the team’s blue-chip prospects, Sven Baertschi and Max Reinhart.

“It’s tough,” said Baertschi, the 18-year-old Swiss winger drafted 24th overall by the Flames this summer.

The disappointment in his voice comes through clearly through the phone as he prepared to hop on a plane.

“I was hoping I would get the chance to start the season with them. But it’s their decision,” Baertschi continued. “One thing is for sure, they want to start with the best team available. If I don’t fit in, it’s not their fault.”

It’s not his fault, either.

Despite showing the kind of skills and hustle that will one day make him an excellent professional, Baertschi simply isn’t big enough yet. He put up a good fight but wasn’t able to win enough battles along the boards in his pre-season action to prove he was ready to make the jump from the WHL’s Portland WinterHawks to the NHL.

“I’m 18, so I don’t have the body of Jarome Iginla,” said Baertschi, still a little stunned his camp has come to an end. “I was really happy with all the exhibition games.”

He played in all of them following a three-game stint in the Young Stars tournament in Penticton, B.C., and suited up in another exhibition clash against the University of Calgary Dinos, and you could see Baertschi’s intelligence and talent shine through.

But you could also see his strength wasn’t at a level necessary for the grind of a long season against the world’s elite.

“I kind of expected to maybe play the next two exhibition games and maybe get a shot there in a regular-season game,” Baertschi said. “But if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.”

Because of an illness, Reinhart only got into one exhibition game after the prospects tourney, but the 19-year-old has the organization and its fans equally excited about his potential.

“I accomplished most of what I wanted to accomplish this year in camp,” said Reinhart, who’s being shipped back to the WHL’s Kootenay Ice. “I showed them that last season wasn’t just a fluke. I actually developed.

“It’s tough being sent back, but at the same time, gaining the expereince that I did, I understand there are a few parts of my game that I need to work on. I’ll take that back to Cranbrook with me and improve on them this season.

“It’s not such a bad thing to go back to junior. It’s an extra year to put on weight, get stronger and really develop my game.”

Heading to join the AHL Abbotsford Heat are forwards Carter Bancks, Stefan Meyer, Greg Nemisz, Gaelan Patterson and Ben Walter, defencemen T.J. Brodie, Chris Breen, Brendan Mikkelson, Clay Wilson and Joe Piskula and goaltenders Leland Irving and Joni Ortio.

Any of them could be called up this season. For the junior kids, though, there’s no coming back until next fall.

Neither of them want to let that next opportunity slip.

“There’s a long way to go, but that’s what my goal is. I want to be able to say I’m ready to make that next step,” Reinhart said. “A lot of that will be determined by how I play this year.”

“They told me, too, that I’m very close. It’s just little things that make the difference,” Baertschi said. “I really try to work on those little details, so I can make sure I’m ready.

“I’ll just try to make sure next year, when I come into camp, there’s just one goal — and that’s to make the team.

“It’ll be different next year.”

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNMacfarlane


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