Baertschi will make his preseason debut Sunday night when Calgary kicks off a busy nine-game preseason with a pair of split-squad games against the Oilers -- one in Edmonton, and one at the Saddledome. Baertschi will play in the game at Rexall Place on a line with Markus Granlund and Paul Byron.
"Mentally, I'm a different player," says Baertschi, who I caught up with Saturday afternoon at WinSport. "I'm still the same player on the ice, I'm just more grown up, I've learned more and I understand the game better."
As I chronicled here earlier this summer, last season was pretty much an unmitigated disaster for Baertschi. Just about everything that could go wrong for the 2011 first round pick, did go wrong.
The first misstep was a poor showing at Flames rookie camp where his effort and attitude were questioned. Then, before the season began, he was publicly scolded by President of Hockey Operations, Brian Burke.
He broke camp with Calgary but struggled to get meaningful ice time, often skating on the fourth line and four times being scratched by coach Bob Hartley. He was demoted to the minors in December. In February, he was snubbed by the Swiss Olympic Team and in May, he got hurt early in the first game of the World Championships in Belarus.
"Through those tough times that I had, maybe they have to be there to make sure I understand how much it actually takes to play in this league," Baertschi says. "Maybe it was a good thing certain things went wrong, for me to really get going and speed up the learning process and speed up the mental toughness."
The 'Perfect' Ending to an Un-Perfect Year
Of all the low points last year and Baertschi shakes his head in agreement as they're itemized, he says his broken rib suffered while playing for Switzerland was the low point.
"Towards the end of the year down in Abbotsford, I was really getting going and was feeling really good going into the playoffs, So, I was so pissed that we lost to Grand Rapids because I want to be a playoff player, I want to go far, I want to win, that's who I am," Baertschi says. "Then I get a call from my agent right after the game and he says the Swiss National Team coach wants you to come as quick as possible."
What an opportunity for Baertschi, who had to decline his invite to the WC's the year before due to a groin injury, only for him to miss out on an inspiring run by Switzerland, which won silver (and then reunited most of that same team for Sochi).
He knew it was also a chance to make a good first impression on Flames general manager Brad Treliving, who had just been hired and was going to be in Belarus as one of Team Canada's assistant GM's.
"Getting that call and having the opportunity to prove once more what I can do out there, that was huge for me," says Baertschi. "I was going to go in, play with some great players. I was so excited going there and then I'm barely getting used to the big ice and then it was done already."
In a fitting conclusion to a miserable year, Baertschi says the play in which he broke his rib wasn't even a hard hit.
"It just caught me in that perfect spot. For me, I didn't want to believe that I was hurt. I was like 'ah, it's just a muscle cramp or whatever, I'm good to go' but I jump over the bench and I had no air, I couldn't breathe," Baertschi recalls. "I tried to battle through it, I took two or three more shifts and then I got the puck on the far side and I picked my corner out and I was like 'that's a goal' and as soon as I tried to shoot, my whole body just shut down. I couldn't even bend my stick so the doctors pulled me off and said you're going to the dressing room."
Soon he was in an ambulance being whisked to the hospital in Minsk. After that came a frustratingly long eight-week layoff while he recovered. The domino effect of that was a late start to his off-season training. Normally Baertschi says he only takes two weeks off before he returns to playing some sports and getting into weights.
Making Up for Lost Time
"With those eight weeks that I missed, I had to put even more work in. I pretty much worked my ass off this summer," says Baertschi. "Not being able to train for that long period bothered me so I had to get back at it. That's one of the reasons why I came down here to Calgary so early this year. To get going with Ryan (van Asten) and especially to also get to know Ryan."
Ryan van Asten, a graduate of the University of Calgary, who has worked in the past for Hockey Canada, is the Flames new strength and conditioning coach. He was poached from the Los Angeles Kings during the off-season.
"I loved Rich (Hesketh) before, I loved what he did with us, but with Ryan, it's a little bit different," says Baertschi. "It's huge for me to come in here and work with him because he's got some new ideas and different things that might help me.
The fact van Asten has two Stanley Cup championships on his resume from working with the Kings validates his abilities.
"In LA, he did a great job with the guys there. So I was really excited, meeting him. We adjusted a lot of things, we worked on my nutrition and we worked on a bunch of stuff. It felt good during fitness testing and I feel great on the ice now."
Baertschi says one area where he feels stronger is his legs.
"I feel really good and I feel like I'm in better shape than last year skating-wise. I have more energy and power in my legs and that's a good thing."
Rekindling the Good Karma of Jersey No. 27
A phone call Baertschi wasn't expecting to receive over the summer came from Mark DePasquale, the Flames equipment manager, who told him that he had to switch numbers.
"I was shocked," said Baertschi, who opted to turn in his old No. 47 for No. 27, which the last few years had been worn by Derek Smith. "I know there's a few people around here that have my jerseys so I was wondering what's going to happen with them, can they switch the '4' to a '2' for free? I was worried about the fans but in the end, I was like hey, that's a cool thing."
It's not uncommon for most hockey players to be a bit superstitious. Include Baertschi in that group also.
"I was happy to switch back to my old (Portland) Winterhawks number because I've had success in it so I take it as a positive thing for me."
Second Chance at a First Impression
Although it seems like forever ago when Baertschi was recalled from Portland on an emergency basis and was the talk of Calgary after scoring three goals in five games, you have to remind yourself that he is still very much a young man. When he celebrates his birthday on Oct. 5, he'll only be turning 22.
"For me, I feel different out there. I'm more comfortable because it's my third year coming in to camp, I'm not as nervous any more," Baertschi says. "I feel like I have a little freedom, but I'm also trying to adjust my game from what I've learned before. Overall, I think I'm making steps forward and that's the important part."
With Treliving in place and a clean slate for Baertschi, he looks forward to making a good first impression.
"I take every season as a new start anyway because you have so much time in the summer to get better at your game and then you can come into camp and surprise a lot of people," he says. "With (Treliving) now, it's huge for me as we've been talking a lot and I think he's really given me confidence."
Whether Baertschi is able force his way into Calgary's season-opening roster remains to be seen. Barring injury or trades, there does not appear to be many open forward spots (as I recently examined in this piece). Nonetheless, a strong camp will put him in a position to be one of the first players recalled if he does start the year in Adirondack.
"I'm preparing, of course, to be in Calgary's line-up as soon as the season starts but in the end, I want to be a reliable player," Baertschi says. "I want to make sure I show that I've learned from the past, that I understand the game better and that I'm a more complete NHL player."
Recent Related Flames Reading
- Sven Degrees of Separation: The Trials and Tribulations of Baertschi - He came out of junior hockey with such acclaim. Yet after so much promise, what has happened to Baertschi. I look back at seven things that have gone wrong for Sven over the past couple years.
- Book of Lists: A Flames-themed Assortment of Top 3's - Who could surprise this season? Who could regress? Which prospect is most NHL-ready? Who will be Adirondack's MVP? Who enters a make-or-break season? Who could be the first player traded? Predictions for all of these questions and more as training camp gets underway.
- Huska and the AHL: Making Sure Players are Prepared for the NHL - Johnny Gaudreau looks like he's ready. Markus Granlund says he's ready. Sam Bennett thinks he's ready. But are they? Ryan Huska explains there's more to being ready than just on-ice skills. Also, Granlund, Michael Ferland and others talk about what they've learned about the AHL
- 2014-15 Flames Roster: More Opportunity Than Meets the Eye - Despite the late signing of Devin Setoguchi and Corey Potter, the training camp invites of Raphael Diaz and Sheldon Brookbank, there is still opportunity for multiple prospects to force their way into Calgary's line-up this year. I look at what the roster could be.
- Dream A Little Dream: Can the Flames be a Playoff Team? - How soon we forget that over the final half of the 2013-14 season, Calgary was a playoff team. They were a top eight team in the west over the final 34 games last year. That was better than Chicago and LA. Here are 12 things taht need to (mostly) happen to repeat that.