While most hockey fans are hopeful the latest
round of negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA will finally yield a resolution
to the prolonged labor dispute, you can probably count Calgary Flames fans as
being among the more anxious bunch that would like to see their team back on
the ice at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Much of that can be attributed to their excitement of seeing the early success
of recently turned pro Sven Baertschi in the American Hockey League. The Swiss
winger, who was the Calgary's first-round pick (13th overall) in 2011, really
put himself on the fans' radar last season after being summoned by the Flames
on an emergency recall in mid-March.
He subsequently tallied three goals during his brief five-game stint before
being returned to the WHL?s Portland Winterhawks.
Baertschi, who almost certainly would have been on the Flames' opening night
roster had the NHL season started on time, is considered by many as the top
prospect in Calgary's system and one can argue the Flames haven't had a draft
pick who has been this eagerly anticipated by their fan base to reach the NHL
since Dion Phaneuf.
A noted sniper the past two seasons playing in the Western Hockey League - he
posted 91 goals and 240 points in 156 regular-season and playoff games combined
over two campaigns in Portland - Baertschi has shown that he's capable of
producing at the next level, netting three goals and six points just four games
into his AHL career.
His point production, not to mention his slick puck skills, also have earned
him high marks from hockey observers around the AHL, including in his own
(temporary) market in Abbotsford, which isn't as easy as it sounds considering
the Heat's traditional struggles at the gate being the Flames' AHL affiliate in
the heart of Vancouver Canucks territory.
This past weekend, the Heat drew larger-than-usual-sized crowds for their back-
to-back home games, welcoming a combined 13,917 fans through the turnstiles at
the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre. Most of those fans showed up to
watch the Canucks' prospects play for the Chicago Wolves and left raving about
the stud future Flame.
Baertschi failed to get on the scoresheet for the first time this season in
Friday's outing, although he managed to get the near sell-out crowd buzzing
nevertheless. He wouldn't be denied for a second straight night on Saturday,
registering a goal and an assist in the third period to help his team to a 4-1
victory over the previously undefeated Wolves.
He also certainly didn't seem shy about playing a physical game despite only
being listed as 5-foot-11, 189 pounds.
For now, at least until the NHL lockout reaches a conclusion, Calgary's loss is
Abbotsford's gain, assuming the fickle fan base in British Columbia's Fraser
Valley takes advantage of the opportunity to see Baertschi as a Heat while they
Baertschi has demonstrated he's worth the price of admission alone. It may seem
like a lot of hype to heap onto a 20-year-old first-year professional, but
Baertschi has seemed more than ready to live up to the challenge.
Flames fans can only hope it will be sooner rather than later that they'll get
to see Baertschi fulfill those high expectations in the flesh.
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