Oil Kings search for way to contain Baertschi’s firepower
Winterhawks star excelling on offence and defence
By Jim Matheson, edmontonjournal.com
May 9, 2012
Winterhawks Sven Bartschi can't get the puck past Oil Kings goalie Laurent Brossoit in game 3 of the Western Hockey League Championship playoffs in Portland.
Photograph by: Doug Beghtel, The Oregonian , edmontonjournal.com
EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oil Kings would like to wrap Portland Winterhawks star Sven Baertschi in a 200’ by 85’ straitjacket in Game 5 Thursday after he burned them with two terrific goals in Game 4, but how do you do that?
In the old days — the Steve Kasper The-Not-So-Friendly-Ghost days — the Boston Bruins centre would be following Wayne Gretzky everywhere. The joke was No. 99 would be driving to the rink, he would look into his rear-view mirror and see Kasper peering over the back of the seat.
“Surprise!” the Bruins pest would yell.
That was then. Nowadays, hockey coaches like their top two shutdown defencemen against the other team’s big gun, so Oil Kings coach Derek Laxdal will have Mark Pysyk and Keegan Lowe on against Baertschi, and a checking line. But a shadow? No. That’s so yesterday.
“I think you take away from your team game when you do that. I’ll be honest with you … I don’t coach that way. All five of your players should be able to play against the other team’s top line (Baertschi, Ty Rattie and Marcel Noebels in the middle, all three drafted NHL players). We’ll try and get Chinner (Rhett Rachinski) out against him as much as possible, but once you put a shadow on a guy, you start to take a bunch of penalties,” said Laxdal.
Baertschi, who’ll be in the NHL next season with the Calgary Flames, is the complete package — a sniper’s methodical, decisive eyes and hands, along with the will to play and check when he doesn’t have the goalie in his crosshairs. It’s a tough combination to wrap your hands around.
He’s got five goals in the four games (one empty net, the other four clinical scores). His two bang-bang goals to bring the Winterhawks back from 3-1 down, only to lose 4-3 in OT, were good stuff.
“Their third goal (Tuesday), he did a great job getting to the net, diving through the pile to pick up a loose puck. On their second goal, he found a soft spot, a little bit of a hole. They make a blind pass and it’s on his tape and right off. We have to try and eliminate him,” said Laxdal, who loves his guys but has no problem giving kudos to the opposition.
“When you break down Baertschi’s game, not only offensively but defensively, he’s outstanding.” said Laxdal. “He angles guys, he gets great body position. If the puck’s turned over in the offensive zone, he’s the first guy back.”
No argument from Portland coach Mike Johnston.
“He’s a good player both ways. He was our best player defensively in Game 4. His backcheck was outstanding which led to a lot of good transition opportunities,” said Johnston.
The Oil Kings have to do a better job than they did in the third period of Tuesday’s thrilling overtime win in Portland because he doesn’t need much room or time to find the net. For sure, the Winterhawks have lots of weapons — Rattie, Noebels, feisty Brendan Leipsic, Oliver Gabriel, Cam Reid, Brad Ross, Joe Morrow, Troy Rutowski and Derrick Pouliot on the back end — but Baertschi is their most dangerous guy.
“Calgary’s got a great draft pick there. He’s going to be a heck of a player in the National Hockey League,” said Laxdal.
Johnston has seen a different Baertschi after his five-game audition with the Flames in March, when he scored three times.
“He came back more confident in his leadership ability. He saw so many good examples in Calgary, starting with Jarome (Iginla),” said Johnston. “He talked about how the older Flames handled him as a young player, how they handled the push for the playoffs.
“Certainly he got the enjoyment of playing on the ice and the confidence that he could play and be an impact player, but the off-ice things left a lasting impression with him.”
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