Baertschi nears return from injury
Sven Baertschi is feeling better, and that fact has the Abbotsford Heat feeling better about themselves.
After missing a calendar month and 13 games due to a head/neck injury, the 20-year-old Swiss sniper was a full participant in Wednesday afternoon's practice at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
"It's been a while and I feel a little rusty, but I feel good," Baertschi said afterward. "I feel I'm at 100 per cent.
"I think people know me enough – I can't wait to get back on the ice. It was hard for me (being out). But I'm finally back out there, and I have a lot of energy."
Baertschi, the Calgary Flames' top prospect, got off to a flying start to his first pro campaign. He posted 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) in 19 games while helping the Heat to a 13-2-4 record – tops in the AHL – through the end of November.
But after Baertschi went down during the Heat's 5-1 win over the Hamilton Bulldogs on Nov. 30, the team hit a tailspin in December, going 3-7-3. While their struggles can't be chalked up entirely to his absence, it's worth noting Abbotsford was averaging exactly three goals per game with Baertschi in the lineup and 1.38 without him.
Heat head coach Troy Ward said Baertschi's playmaking flair and upbeat personality infuses the team with confidence.
"It's amazing how you can feel, whether you're a reporter or the head coach, how much he's missed," Ward said. "You can just see it."
As much as the Heat would love to add Baertschi to the lineup as soon as possible – namely, for their Friday-Saturday home set vs. the Rochester Americans this weekend – Ward said they'll err on the side of caution.
"We'll make a decision on Friday to see how he's recovered from Wednesday and Thursday's practices," the Abby bench boss said. "There's a chance on Friday he could feel really tired. If he is, then we'll hold him out – we'll be patient. But if he feels great and he passes all the right things, then we'll put him in."
Baertschi said the injury was tough to deal with mentally.
"It was kind of a combination of my head and neck area," he said. "Because it had a lot to do with my spine, my whole body was kind of messed up. Everything wasn't really working together, so I'd say it was a different feeling, a weird feeling. It was tough to handle – you can't do much, really. You just want to make sure you have enough rest.
"But I had some good treatment and now I'm fine. I don't feel anything anymore."
Fellow Heat forward Ryan Howse was also back at practice Wednesday after missing time due to injury. The sophomore pro started the season with the ECHL's Utah Grizzlies, then ran into some bad fortune after being recalled by Abbotsford. On the second shift of his first AHL game of the campaign (Dec. 5 vs. the San Antonio Rampage) he took a stick to the face and has been sidelined 10 games.