March 8, 2012
Getting NHL shot 'great experience'
By Ian Busby, QMI Agency
A slick junior scorer called up for an emergency stint with the NHL club.
Sounds familiar to Brent Sutter.
The memory of the first NHL game never goes away. For the Calgary Flames head coach, it's not a fond one.
With a rash of injuries to the New York Islanders back in March 1981, Sutter was brought up from the Lethbridge Broncos to face the Flames in Calgary.
The result: 11-4 Flames.
So Sutter knows exactly what junior phenom Sven Baertschi will be going through Friday when he suits up against the Winnipeg Jets.
"It's the same thing," Sutter said Thursday after Baertschi's first practice with the big club upon his callup from the Portland Winterhawks.
"The beating here was a real wakeup call. At that time, Calgary had a massive team, and I came in at 5-foot-11 and 165 lb.
"I got lots of ice time. I played a ton. They needed centre icemen, and I was fortunate to play. It was a great experience."
Sutter didn't do too bad in a three-game stint: Two goals and two assists, and the Islanders did pick up victories in Vancouver and Los Angeles.
Baertschi might not be with the Flames that long, but the team sure could use a boost of offence with seven forwards out of the lineup due to injury.
The best advice Sutter could give the 19-year-old was to have fun and play the game that earned him 94 points in 47 WHL games.
Flames fans are obviously excited to see what Baertschi can do. They only got two games of him playing for Switzerland at the world juniors in Calgary because he suffered a concussion.
But Baertschi is aware of the high hopes people have around here for the 2011 first-round pick.
"I will try to do my best," Baertschi said. "I hope people don't have too high of expectations for me. I know it's not the same as junior.
"It's going to be a lot harder out there. I will have to go step by step and try hard."
Baertschi arrived in Calgary Wednesday night and took the ice for his first practice Thursday morning. He showed off enough skill to impress Sutter.
"He's got a gift," Sutter said. "He's phenomenal. He can skate, he can shoot, he can handle the puck, and he's fast.
"Just watching him doing the drills in practice, his pace is high and his intelligence is high. He's going to be a responsible player.
"The way we play and the way the NHL is played, you want every player to be a good two-way play. He's going to do that and bring some skills with him."
It's been a whirlwind for Baertschi since getting the call to join the Flames. He had trouble sleeping Wednesday night and expected more of the same Thursday.
Because his parents are back in Switzerland, he won't have them with him in person for his NHL debut, but just getting a chance to break the news to them over the phone was an amazing experience.
"I told my mom to sit down first," Baertschi said. "She thought I was just joking around. She was laughing.
"When I said I was serious, she started crying. My parents watch the whole season. They wake up in the middle of the night. I hope they do it again.
"I'm really lucky to have parents to support me that much."