When they play their first game of the relegation round on January 2, the Swiss will face the threat of relegation to Division I of the 2004 WJC. Their neighbour, Austria, has already qualified for the top level of the World Junior Championship at next year’s tournament.
Switzerland’s Patrik Bartschi is no stranger to the pressures of relegation round. In his home league, the Swiss NLA, the playoffs are of a format similar to the one that is being used here in Halifax. There is a best-of-seven series to determine who the Swiss champion is, and the lowest team in the NLA plays the champion of the second tier of national professional hockey, the NLB. The winner of this best-of-seven series gets a place in the NLA for the next season, the loser is relegated to the NLB.
Bartschi comes from a hockey family. His father, Urs, played 91 games for the national team. Bartschi credits his father for getting him started in hockey, and says that his father remains a role model to him. “My father played and I came to hockey by him.” He learned how to play hockey at age four, and has been with his current club, Kloten Flyers, since 1988, working his way up to the top level.
His overseas hockey experience started when he was 13, at the world-famous peewee tournament in Quebec.
“It was a big tournament of my age, and I scored many goals and became a big star. It was my first great success for hockey and after that I started to do that professional and work every day for it. It was a key tournament for me. We played many time in Czech Republic but it [Quebec] was my first time overseas.”
His hometown has 7,000 people, and he usually plays in front of small crowds compared to the 10,000 he has seen in Halifax.
“I like to play in front of more people. Halifax would be the second biggest city in our country. We were in Sydney before. That looked a little bit like Switzerland. It was pretty with the land and seas. But I like cities. We want to go shopping, but everything was closed (for New Year’s Day.)”
When he’s not playing hockey, Bartschi likes to ski in the Alps, swim, and play golf. “(Golf) is a good thing to help forget about hockey, get the head free.”
The top goal-scorer on his team, Bartschi is taking the losses of the earlier round hard. “It was very disappointing for us to not reach the final round. Personally, I’m a leader on this team, I should’ve scored more goals – that’s my opinion. I learned many things and now we have to look that we don’t relegate. We have to play two good games and after that we can be proud of us.”
Drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 7th-round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Bartschi expects to play for them when the time is right. His current Swiss club is coached by Vladimir Jursinov, noted for working with NHL players such as Alexei Yashin and Saku Koivu. Bartschi thinks that he can still learn from Jursinov, and develop even more as a player before he’s ready to join the NHL.
“I want to take year by year. I had a very good year in Switzerland and I want to come over at the time when it’s right. I work with a really good coach right now in Switzerland. I give myself my time, and give him the time to develop and time will be there.”
His attitude is consistent with his life motto: Verantwortlich ist man nicht nur für Dinge die man tut, sondern auch für Dinge die man nicht tut (A responsible person is not only responsible for what they do, but also for what they don’t do.)