ANAHEIM, Calif. – It wasn’t the physiological recovery that allowed Sven Baertschi to get back to hockey this fall as much as the psychological one he required after suffering a concussion and the onset of anxiety last season.
Baertschi’s new outlook, his mental peacefulness and confidence, was severely tested a month ago when the Vancouver Canucks demoted him to the minors, dumping the winger back where he started more than four years ago. Ultimately, that same mindset has carried him back to the National Hockey League for another chance with the Canucks.
The 27-year-old Swiss was recalled Friday from the Utica Comets after Canucks forward Micheal Ferland, whose summer signing by Vancouver helped push Baertschi on to waivers and down to the American League on Sept. 30, was sent home after suffering a concussion in a fight Wednesday against Los Angeles Kings forward Kyle Clifford.
Baertschi was not scheduled to play Friday night against the Anaheim Ducks, but skated with his old teammates in the morning and could play Saturday in San Jose when the Canucks end their three-game tour of California.
“Once a team puts you on waivers, you sort of have that. . . weird feeling, kind of: ‘What’s next and where do we go from here? Do they need me still?’” Baertschi told reporters at the Honda Center. “All these things kind of go through your head.
“The first feeling when I got back to Utica was: ‘Why am I here again? I thought I left the AHL and became an NHL player.’ At the end of the day, I was going to Utica with the mindset I am an NHL player. I’ve become that.”
Whether in Vancouver or somewhere else, Baertschi plans to prove this again.
He’d probably be on another NHL team already were it not for a one-way contract that demands a salary of $3.37-million this season and next.
The former first-round pick, acquired in a 2015 trade with the Calgary Flames, has 58 goals and 108 points in 219 games with the Canucks. And until he was concussed on an unpenalized hit from behind last Oct. 24 in Las Vegas, Baertschi was a top-line regular beside Canucks captain Bo Horvat.
The concussion Baertschi suffered, and the anxiety that followed, restricted him to just 26 games last season. He scored nine goals, so he can still play.
Baertschi credited his adoption of mindfulness meditation, which has its roots in Zen and Buddhism, for healing him and getting him ready for training camp in September.
But Canucks coach Travis Green and general manager Jim Benning detected hesitancy in Baertschi’s game and, with the off-season additions of wingers Ferland and J.T. Miller, assigned the veteran to Utica.
Truthfully, the organization hoped another NHL team would claim Baertschi on waivers and lift his salary off the Canucks’ payroll. But Baertschi cleared – as nearly everyone did on the eve of the regular season – and reported to upstate New York, where he helped the Comets start 8-0-0 by scoring 10 points in seven games.
“I know Sven well, so I know he was hungry to get back and do well,” Green, who coached Baertschi in junior hockey in Portland, told reporters Friday morning. “There was never a doubt about that. Those are hard conversations to have with guys that have been in the league a little bit. Really, we said that all summer long — that we would have to make some hard choices. And we did, and that was one of them.”
Green was unsure when Baertschi will play but said, “I know we’ll get his best when he’s back in the lineup.”
The Canucks’ objective in the summer signings was, partly, to establish regular linemates for Horvat, who endured 30 different combinations of wingers last season. But with Baertschi gone, the two-way centre has already cycled through five different line combinations in 12 games. Ferland bounced around the lineup while managing one goal and five points in 12 games.
Now with Ferland on injured reserve and Horvat struggling to generate even-strength offence, Baertschi seems like an obvious fit with his old linemate. Of course, Baertschi also looked like a fit for the 23-man roster before he was re-assigned.
“Sven and I are really good friends, so it was tough to see him get sent down,” Horvat said Friday. “It’s nice to have him around the room again. I knew he would do exactly what he’s been doing: producing and playing well and maintaining a positive attitude. It’s not easy moving your whole family down. He was super-positive though the whole experience, and I think that’s why he’s back so soon. I’m just happy to have him back.”
Baertschi, his wife, Laura, and their six-month-old son, Callan, lived in a Utica hotel the last month. Laura and the baby have returned to Portland, her hometown, and Sven has arrived back at the Canucks with three huge suitcases.
“Everything I own,” he said.
Baertschi is planning to be here awhile.
“It’s a call you don’t want to get,” Baertschi said of his demotion. “But it happened. It was their decision at the time. I had to wait for the visa (to play for Utica) at the time, so I had four or five days to think about it and prepare for myself for whatever is next. That situation, the best you can do is accept it and make the most of it for what it is. I think that’s what I did.”
• Extra forward Adam Gaudette goes back into the lineup Friday to replace Ferland on a line with Brandon Sutter and Josh Leivo. The other three lines are unchanged: J.T. Miller-Elias Pettersson-Brock Boeser, Tanner Pearson-Horvat-Jake Virtanen, and Tim Schaller-Jay Beagle-Loui Eriksson.