Vancouver, BC – 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 still can.
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.