BUFFALO Ė When will Switzerland produce its next wunderkind to follow the New York Islandersí number-five draft pick in 2010, Nino Niederreiter? The next potential first rounder is his teammate on this yearís U20 national team and the WHLís Portland Winterhawks, Sven Bšrtschi.
Bšrtschi was born and raised in Langenthal where he played the 2009-2010 season for the professional team SC Langenthal in the National League B. In summer he transferred to Portland and is now playing his first World U20 Championship.
With 47 points (21+26) in 36 games, Bšrtschi is the only rookie among the top-ten scorers in the WHL. NHL Central Scouting ranks him second among draft-eligible WHL skaters.
IIHF.com sat down with the forward, who plays Canada in todayís quarterfinals.
How do you feel playing your first World U20 Championship?
Itís great to be in Buffalo and to play in an NHL arena. I was happy to receive the invitation to represent Switzerland here. It was a special feeling to enter this huge arena.
What do you think can this team reach here?
Our first priority was to stay in the Top Division and now as we made the quarterfinals, everything is possible.
Switzerland lost to Canada 8-0 in an exhibition game. What went wrong for your team?
We were too afraid of the Canadians. They have a great team, but we must be more aggressive. The most positive thing was our reaction after that game.
Was it difficult for you in Portland in the beginning?
I felt pretty comfortable when arriving here. The organization treats us well and when I feel good, I play my best hockey.
Did you expect such a great performance in the WHL when you came over?
I didnít have big expectations. I knew it would be a strong league, but I also knew I can contribute to the team. I simply came over because I wanted to play there. But in training camp I adjusted well to the smaller rink and saw what I could reach here. Iíve also had a great linemate, Ty Rattie, since my first day and the chemistry between us is pretty good.
How did you prepare for this adventure in North America?
As I played against men in the National League B, I was already used to the physical play, and during the summer I did exercises to gain more weight. When I came over, I didnít have the feeling other players were much stronger than me, so it worked well.
How did you start playing hockey?
As I kid I always felt this was my sport. Many of my friends played football, but I had the feeling hockey players and football players were completely different personalities. I always felt a bit different than football players. Football players are good with their feet, but hockey players need to be skilled in any possible aspect. If you start playing hockey as a kid, it becomes the show of your life, with the NHL as the stage youíd like to play.
You said a footballer is a different person. Can you specify these different characteristics?
Thatís difficult to describe. But if you watch a football game, you often see players making great moves, tackling and passes before a teammate scores into the empty net Ė and then the guy runs around to the fans to show he scored the goal while others did quite a lot of the work. If you score in hockey, the first thing you do is to skate to your teammates and cheer together. I think when you watch the way players cheer in these sports, thatís the best metaphor to describe the different mentalities.
You were used to playing on a team with two imports in Switzerland. Now youíre one of two imports on a WHL team. Is it difficult to assume this role as a European among North Americans?
The roles are different, and in this league itís not that easy to be outstanding because there are so many good players. There were 80 players in the camp, so you have to gain respect from the very beginning. Itís a huge battle. You need to show your best hockey to deserve a place in the dressing room. Players donít grant you anything in the camp, but once the team is formed for the season, the team spirit starts developing.
How did you decide to play junior hockey in North America instead of continuing to play in a professional league?
I followed how Nino Niederreiter was doing in the WHL and at some point during the last season I decided that I also want to come over after finishing school in Switzerland. Here I also play against guys of a similar age. Because of the small rink the game is faster and you also have to react faster. Thereís not much time to think. At the beginning it wasnít that easy for me and of course itís not that easy to say goodbye to everybody at home.
Wasnít it difficult to play junior hockey where you earn no money compared to Switzerland where you made a salary?
For sure I didnít come over because of the money, but thatís not a big issue right now. I want to show what I can. If Iím good enough, Iíll earn enough money later. Right now I donít really need it. In Langenthal I was also working at the clubís office, which I was happy about, but now I can fully focus on hockey here.
Youíre known in Portland for staying on the ice pretty long after practice.
When you watch an NHL game and see those players, you notice a big difference, and if you want to close the gap and become one of those, you need to practice a lot. I love being on the ice and want to make the best out of it.
You already have a teammate with NHL experience in Nino Niederreiter. What did he tell you about the NHL?
He told me how he felt playing there and the difference between junior hockey and the big spotlight.
You are often compared with Niederreiter. Do these comparisons bother you?
It often happens, although we are completely different players. Heís more of a power forward who checks much more than me. I try to work more with my skills, although I could also improve in hitting. We never play on the same line either, but heís a great guy. We have a lot of fun and often spend our free time together.
Do you think it was the right way to quit professional hockey in Switzerland and play junior hockey in the WHL?
Itís difficult to say in general, but for me it was the right decision. Youíre also scouted much more here. There are players who were successful the other way, but if I look at Nino Niederreiterís abilities, I think it was also the right thing for him.
Youíre ranked pretty high by the scouts. Do you think youíll also be picked in the first round?
I donít count on it. First I have to perform well. There are many other players at a very high level who deserve to be drafted in the first round. I know the ranking, but you still have to perform well in each game.
Now as you live in North America, do you follow the NHL more closely, and do you think about playing there?
I follow what happens in the NHL, but the Entry Draft is still far away. The season has just begun and when I look at how much you need as a player to play a role in the NHL, I have the feeling that I need to work hard to reach that goal. But the process here has just started; there are so many more games to play this year. Itís also good for us European players to show off at the World U20 Championship because there are not so many North Americans who get this opportunity.
Do you have a favourite NHL team?
I really like the Pittsburgh Penguins. When I see how Crosby plays, and his streak he had, then you face reality and stay on the ground as a player.
In the Swiss league you normally had two-hour bus rides for away games. How was it for you when you had your first lengthy road trip in the WHL?
The first time it was difficult. I didnít really know what to do. Once after we finished a two-week road trip we had a 24-hour bus ride back home. But step by step I got used to it. Now I usually watch movies or surf in the internet.
Do you miss Switzerland?
Sometimes. Itís nice to live there. I grew up there. But itís also nice here and when it comes to hockey, itís really a dream to play in North America.