Calgary Flames management is providing fans added excitement of the unplanned variety besides an all-Canadian matchup Friday night.
Swiss left-winger Sven Baertschi, a 2011 first-round draft pick who is averaging two points per game with his junior team this season, has been summoned as an emergency callup from the Western Hockey League and will suit up against the visiting Winnipeg Jets (7 p.m. MT).
Flames general manager Jay Feaster could have added muscle in Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond or Raitis Ivanans from the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Abbotsford, B.C., but was clearly seeking an offensive punch.
Baertschi, 19, fits the bill with 33 goals and 94 points in 47 games with the Portland Winterhawks, even though he has never played a minute of a National Hockey League regular-season game.
“It’s like a dream. It’s like somebody telling you something so cool that you really can’t say anything,” Baertschi told reporters after getting the call Wednesday. “I didn’t think I would have a chance this year [with Calgary]. I was looking forward to next season and getting another chance at training camp.”
Baertschi’s early audition begins Friday as the Flames could be without as many as eight injured regulars: forwards Mike Cammalleri (upper body), Blake Comeau (shoulder), Mikael Backlund (shoulder), Lee Stempniak (high ankle sprain), Tim Jackman (upper body) Blair Jones (broken ankle) and Lance Bouma (upper body) along with defenceman Chris Butler (left thigh laceration).
They are three points out of a playoff spot in 11th place in the Western Conference.
Baertschi will take the place of Jackman on a line with defensive forward Tom Kostopoulos and Greg Nemisz, who was recalled from Abbotsford Monday and has nine games of NHL experience.
Step by step
“I hope people don’t have too high expectations for me,” said Baertschi, the 13th overall pick at last summer’s draft. “I know it’s not the same as junior. It’s going to be a lot harder out there. I will have to go step by step and try hard.”
Kostopoulos, with 600 NHL games under his belt, is expected to be a calming influence and provide leadership for the trio. He came away impressed with Baertschi after one practice.
“We all know how talented he is,” Kostopoulos told reporters. “He can skate well, move the puck and shoot. Right now, we’re all just excited for him and to see him play.”
Flames head coach Brent Sutter knows how young Baertschi is feeling. In March 1981, the injury ravaged New York Islanders brought up Sutter by from the WHL’s Lethbridge Broncos to face the Flames in Calgary.
New York took it on the chin to the tune of 11-4. Sutter helped the Islanders to wins over Vancouver and Los Angeles and finished a three-game stint with two goals and four points, a performance Baertschi no doubt would like to duplicate.
“He’s got a gift. He’s phenomenal,” Sutter said. “He can skate, he can shoot, he can handle the puck, and he’s fast.”
Baertschi, who sat out 19 games earlier this season after suffering a concussion at the world junior hockey championship, said he’s ready for Friday’s opportunity.
“I don’t think the speed [of the NHL game] will be a huge problem,” the five-foot-11, 187-pound Baertschi said. “I just have to make sure I don’t walk into [Jets’ six-foot-four, 257-pound defenceman Dustin] Byfuglien.”
Captain raises play
Captain Jarome Iginla has been doing his best to lead the depleted Flames (30-25-12) with four goals and two assists in his last four games. He scored twice in Tuesday’s 5-4 win over the Montreal Canadiens while Curtis Glencross added two assists and scored a goal for the fifth straight game.
That victory snapped a 0-2-3 stretch at home for Calgary.
“We've been going through a tough stretch and sometimes when it goes like that, you just need to get that one to get over that hump," Iginla said. "It's not pretty, but it's still a very important win for us and breaks a bad streak at home and something to build on."
Winnipeg (32-28-8) will be trying to regroup after squandering a third-period lead in a 3-2 loss Thursday at Vancouver, where the Canucks handed the Jets only their second regulation loss in 10 games.
The Jets missed an opportunity to tie Florida for the Southeast Division lead, instead slipping into a tie with Washington for eighth place in the East.
The bulk of that 6-2-2 stretch came during an eight-game homestand, but goalie Ondrej Pavelec admitted his team just doesn't have the same swagger on the road.
Winnipeg is 11-18-4 away from home, winning in regulation just once in its last 11. The franchise went 0-5-0 in Calgary as the Atlanta Thrashers.