First rounder ready to represent Switzerland at World Juniors
Calgary Flames fans will likely be keeping a closer on Team Switzerland than usual at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Alberta this year.
There is an easy explanation — Sven Bartschi.
The Flames 2011 first round draft choice has been lighting up the Western Hockey League with the Portland Winterhawks, having scored 39 points in only 17 games, and will likely be suiting up for the Swiss at the tournament.
"I'm really excited," he said. "I'm really lucky that I've been drafted by Calgary and the World Juniors are in Calgary.
"I didn't get to play against the Hitmen," he said, referring to a hip injury that kept him out of the lineup when the Winterhawks visited Calgary, "so it'll be good to be back in Calgary for the World Juniors."
Bartschi remains grounded, yet optimistic about Switzerland's chances.
"I think our chances are really good. It's kind of tough for us because we're such a small country," he said. "It's not like Canada where you have 60 players or more to choose and pick the best team.
"We have a lot of good players. Not the biggest players, but a lot of talent and a lot of skill."
Even in front of 19,000 rabid hockey fans? "I want to show them what I can out there. The World Juniors, it's a great thing that they're up there. They're going to watch all the games and it's a big challenge for me.
"But you know, they expect a lot from me, but I expect a lot from myself, too."
With an aging core and little in the prospect pipeline for the Calgary Flames, inhabitants of the Red Mile have plenty to be excited about with prospect like Bartschi.
John Weisbrod, Flames assistant general manager recognizes that need. "A lot of our recent drafting, while we've gotten some good role players and character guys, we haven't been successful in drafting skill.
"Sven is a high skill player and can play the game at an up-tempo pace. One of the things that makes him so good is that he's a high hockey sense guy and he plays the game the same no matter where he is."
All of this is good news for an NHL franchise that is lacking in solid top six talent — particularly when hated division rivals Edmonton and Vancouver are chock full of homegrown talent — both teams have 10 or more draftees in their starting lineup compared to Calgary's four.
Beyond his skillset, Bartschi appears to possess a maturity not often found in younger players. Former Winterhawks teammate and current New York Islanders forward Nino Niederreiter saw Bartschi as someone who "gets along with everybody. He was a rookie last year and very quiet."
"I'm sure this year he's starting to help out the younger guys."
Not bad for a sophomore playing his second year of North American hockey.
Weisbrod shares that assessment. "He's a self-motivated, self-focused kid and that has served him very well to this point. He's got a maturity about him that belies his age at this point. The off ice part of it and the kind of person he appears to be has been encouraging to us."
Coming off a fifth place finish last year, the Swiss are in Group A for this year's tourney, meaning Bartschi will be suiting up in front of the Saddledome faithful at least four times during the opening round.
- By TREVOR PRESILOSKI