He’s only four games deep in his AHL career, and English isn’t his first language, but Sven Baertschi has a flair for expressing himself on and off the ice.
In the wake of the Abbotsford Heat’s dominant 4-1 triumph over the Chicago Wolves on Saturday evening, the Swiss rookie dropped a cinema-inspired gem while reflecting on his explosive chemistry with linemates Ben Walter and Dustin Sylvester.
“We really complete each other,” he said, borrowing a sentimental vibe from the the 1996 romantic comedy Jerry Maguire.
“I think we all play a similar game. We all like to pass, but we like to take the puck to the net and play offensive hockey.”
The Baertschi-Walter-Sylvester unit has been absolutely dynamite since head coach Troy Ward tried them together for the first time in the second period of the season opener against the Peoria Rivermen.
They were at it again Saturday, generating the game-winning goal and the insurance marker in the third period.
With the score knotted 1-1, Baertschi dug out the puck behind the Chicago net and sent it in front, where Walter tracked it down, whirled and fired. Sylvester got a stick on it and tipped it past Wolves goalie Eddie Lack at 8:44 of the final frame.
Exactly four minutes later, Baertschi supplied another of his stunning strikes. Heat defenceman T.J. Brodie, lacking a clear shooting lane, fired the puck off the end boards and it ricocheted to Baertschi in the slot. He hammered a slap shot that dented the twine before Lack could collect himself.
Walter, Baertschi and Sylvester currently find themselves one-two-three on the Heat scoring list. Add it all up, and they’ve got seven goals and 11 assists for 18 points in four games, to go with a combined +12 rating.
“They’re not making long plays – they’re making a lot of short little plays, and they’re very much on the same page,” Ward explained.
On Friday, the Heat had been exceedingly fortunate to pick up a single point, as the Canucks farm team carried the play for much of the evening en route to a 3-2 shootout win. If not for goalie Danny Taylor, the game might not have been close.
On Saturday, playing before a sellout crowd of 7,046, the Heat gave a far better account of themselves.
The Wolves carried over some momentum from the night before, though, and opened the scoring at the 8:19 mark of the first period courtesy Zack Kassian.
The Heat turned over the puck along the side boards in the defensive zone, and Yann Sauve pushed it ahead to Kassian, who walked in and ripped a sizzling blocker-side wrister past Heat keeper Barry Brust.
But the hosts’ roster was rich with prime-time performers on this night, starting with Carter Bancks.
Early in the second period, Bancks was on the receiving end of a gift from Lack. The Wolves goalie wandered from his crease to play the puck and fired it directly to the Heat’s Adam Estoclet at the blueline. He whipped a pass to Bancks at the side of the Chicago net, and he shovelled a backhander into the empty cage to level the score 1-1.
Shortly thereafter, Heat forward Tyler Ruegsegger absorbed a crushing check from Alex Mallet, prompting Bancks to step up and drop the gloves.
He took the worst of it against Mallet, and was sporting a swollen left eye in the post-game press conference, but said he doesn’t mind paying the price in a physical game.
“When you see something like that (the Mallet hit) happen, someone taking a liberty, you want to let him know that’s not all right, especially in our building,” he said. “Unfortunately, he sort of let me know. But it was a good fight.”
While Baertschi is hogging the early-season headlines, and understandably so, don’t sleep on Roman Horak.
The versatile sophomore forward from the Czech Republic has been terrific in the early going. He rounded out the scoring on Saturday, tapping in a touch pass from Quintin Laing on the power play, and has scored in four straight games to open the campaign.
Horak suited up for 61 NHL games with the Calgary Flames last season, but struggled upon being sent down to Abbotsford late in the year.
“He didn’t know his role, and he was trying to settle into a team after going through the whole let-down of coming down (from the NHL),” Ward analyzed.
“He came back in with a method to his madness. Here’s a kid that wants to play in Calgary. He doesn’t want to sit at the 61 games . . . He’s come in with a great attitude, and I think he’s comfortable.”
Brust, seeing his first action after Taylor started the first three contests, grew more comfortable as the game wore on.
The 6’2″ keeper plays an athletic, aggressive style, and he showcased that mentality late in the second period. With Nathan Longpre swooping in from the left wing, Brust came out to challenge and ended up knocking the Chicago forward into the end boards. The Wolves weren’t pleased with the collision, which went unpenalized.
“It’s unfortunate – he hit the boards pretty hard, and I was trying to go for the puck,” said Brust, who finished with 25 saves, including highlight-reel efforts on Kassian and Steve Pinizzotto in the second period.
“I actually missed the puck, so I might have caught him a little bit and I feel bad for him. But it happens sometimes.”
The Heat (3-0-1) handed the Wolves (4-1-0) their first defeat of the young season.
“In the second period, we kind of got away from our game and they took over the momentum,” said Kassian, the elite Canucks prospect who was a monster all weekend. “From there, they got more confident and they brought it into the third.”
• Krys Kolanos was the odd man out in the Heat’s veteran equation, as Ward elected to sit last year’s top scorer in order to add Laing’s grit to the lineup. Forwards David Eddy (seeing his first game action of the year) and Estoclet were also inserted, with Brett Olson (healthy) and Lance Bouma (lower body injury) sitting.
• The Heat hit the road this week for three games in three days – Friday and Saturday at the Lake Erie Monsters, and Sunday at the Hamilton Bulldogs.
Chicago Wolves goalie Eddie Lack stopped Tyler Ruegsegger on a breakaway, but the Heat would put four pucks past him on Saturday.