Friday, November 14, 2014

Strike up the Polka Band: Sven is Happy, Happy, Happy

As I frantically pounded out my game story for The Canadian Press on Thursday night, I had to stop for a second and listen. Is that what I think it is? I cocked my ear in the direction of the vacated lower bowl below me. Is that an accordion I hear?

Now I've heard the ol' squeezebox at the Saddledome before. But it was in 1988 during John Mellencamp's Lonesome Jubilee tour and it was being played by the late John Casella, one of the band members. The accordion in Cherry Bomb, just awesome.

But where was it coming from on this night, nearly an hour after the Flames game had ended, and who was it?

Wait, hang on, I thought to myself. I wonder if it's Sven.

After all, Sven Baertschi's Swiss heritage is a pretty good fit. Plus, I had just talked to him a half-hour earlier and he was pumped after collecting his first two NHL points in over 11 months. Dare I say, I thought he did have a little polka in his step.

Offence is Baertschi's Fuel

While I was unable to determine the source of the music, what I was able to confirm on Thursday night -- and something most of us suspected anyway, is the root of Baertschi's confidence lies in his involvement in the offence.

"If you get points and you're out there for goals for, it gives you a certain kind of comfort and allows your mind to just play the game and not think too much," said Baertschi, who had the primary assist on both of Paul Byron's goals.

Baertschi said it's not even about being on the score sheet, it's just being on the ice when the team scores. 

"Especially as an offensive guy. I've always relied on those things," said Baertschi, who had zero points in his first four games after being recalled from Adirondack during the Flames last road trip. "We all want to be out there for goals and it gives me a certain kind of swagger that I need in my game. Sometimes all it takes is a goal and the rest of the game looks different."

Baertschi returned to the line-up after missing Monday's 4-1 loss in Carolina with a virus, which sure didn't sound very comfortable.

"My hands were burning and my feet were burning and I had a sore throat. It was a little something that most of the time, kids get it, and I think it got passed around in Glens Falls," said Baertschi, who had no goals and three assists in 10 games with the baby Flames when he got the call. "You just have to get through it. Usually with viruses, you lose tons of fluids as your body is trying to work it out and it takes so much energy."

But it's gone now and he says he's feeling much better. From Wednesday to Thursday, he gained back four pounds that he had lost.

"I feel good now," said Baertschi. "This morning, I felt more like 90 percent but then throughout the day, I had some more rest and I slept a little bit and going into the game tonight, I felt fine. it felt like any other game."

While it may have felt like any other game, it sure didn't look like any other game. 

Playing on a newly formed line with rookie Josh Jooris at centre and the energetic but snake-bitten Byron on the right side, the trio had an excellent evening.

"Sven, Jooris and Byron, that line for us was flying,' said Flames coach Bob Hartley. "Sven was skating. I felt he was feeling it. He held the puck, he was making plays, he gave us a great offensive game and that's who he is. He's a playmaker.”

He demonstrated his offensive skill on Byron's second goal. Darting over the Arizona blue-line with the puck, Baertschi threaded a perfect cross-ice pass to Byron on the far wing, who cradled the puck and then wristed a shot past Mike Smith.

"Confidence is everything," said the 22-year-old former first round pick. "When things don't seem to go your way and you lose confidence and such, the stick feels heavy, the puck feels really heavy but then as soon as you make something happen, most of the times it's a greasy goal that you have to score, and then all of a sudden you get going."

Confidence Booster

His first NHL point since December 10, which was also his last game before he was sent to the minors for the duration of the season, came halfway through the first period. Hard after the puck down low, Baertschi was able to knock it back to Byron in the high slot, who snapped it past Smith.

From that point forward, like flicking on the lights in a pitch-black room, you could see Baertschi's game noticeably change. His renewed confidence was palpable.

On his next shift, he went out and drew an Arizona penalty thanks to his hustle.

Right after that came a shift on the power play. Not an unusual thing you would think, yet in his first four games, he had seen a grand total of three seconds of ice time with the man advantage.

“He had a great game. He brought a great compete level," complimented Byron. "This game is a lot different when you're playing with confidence and for him, I think that's something he has to keep playing with and keep creating out there. It was definitely a good step forward for him.”

While Baertschi still only played a little over 10 minutes on the night, it was by far his most impactful game of the season and he's determined to pick up on Saturday night against Ottawa where he left off against the Coyotes.  

"I want to build on this now. It's something positive. It's been a while since I've had any points in the NHL and for me, it's huge," Baertschi said.

Loves Home (Dome) Cooking

He also credits playing on home ice. He hadn't played at the Saddledome yet this year but it is a place he says he feels comfortable. In his last eight games he played in Calgary last year, he had one goal and four assists. 

"I was excited coming back here to Calgary and I was excited about the crowd and to show what I can do," said Baertschi. "I know there are so many fans that have been behind me and that gave me huge confidence for the game tonight."

Next thing to strike off his list is getting a goal. 

Going back to last year when he finished the season with Abbotsford and including the playoffs, Baertschi has gone 22 games since last lighting the red lamp.

Yet I wouldn't be surprised if that goal he's dying to get comes during this five-game home-stand and maybe even next game. It's a pattern we've seen before.

After Baertschi was sent down last year, he struggled out of the gate with two goals and two assists in his first 15 AHL games. But after that, his offence picked up, finishing the regular season on nearly a point-per-game pace, amassing 11 goals and 14 assists over the final 26 games.

If he can regain that scoring touch, that would be a major boon for Calgary, a huge step for Baertschi and to be honest, it would be exciting for me, personally.

Strike up the Band

As a long time player of the accordion myself back in grades 4-9 -- I have some Scandinavian heritage on my mom's side, I truly enjoy the instrument and I look forward to tapping my toes to more accordion music coming from 'somewhere' in the bowels of the Saddledome over the next couple of weeks.

If I can put in a request also, the Beer Barrel Polka, the Liechtensteiner Polka and the Clarinet Polka were always three of my favourites to play. Give each of them two minutes of your time and you'll know why (seriously, the YouTube videos linked above are absolutely priceless).

Points, confidence and polka music, it's all infectious and a good infectious at that.


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  1. Switzerland is not in Scandinavia.

    1. Thank you for that but I am well aware of that. Also not in Scandinavia is Germany, Poland or Austria, three other European countries in which the accordion is popular.

      Maybe I did not articulate myself very well but was not implying Switzerland was a Scandinavian country. But I am implying they like a good polka and goodness, how can you not.

  2. I'm really excited for Baertschi. He has as many detractors these days as fans, but his last outing seemingly silenced a lot of critcs. I'd like to seem them silenced for good.