As Patrik Bartosak goes, so go the Red Deer Rebels.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Bartosak’s improved play in recent weeks has resulted in an upswing in the club’s fortunes.
“This is the second part of the season and I think we started off pretty good with big wins against Calgary and Edmonton,” the Rebels veteran netminder said Thursday, in reference to back-to-back post-Christmas victories that stretched the team’s winning streak to five games.
The Rebels’ victory run ended Monday with a 4-3 loss to visiting Brandon — a game in which even Bartosak struggled — but the squad has looked better as of late.
“We just realized it’s time to kick in, it’s time to get going and I think we did,” said Bartosak, who will start tonight against the visiting Seattle Thunderbirds. “That’s a good thing and we’re just hoping that it’s going to continue.”
The reigning Canadian Hockey League goaltender of the year didn’t resemble his old self earlier in the season, and for good reason.
“The start of the season was a little bit slower for me, but with our goalie coach (Taylor Dakers) we just did some adjustments, some changes, so this is kind of why I had to take a step back,” said Bartosak. “But we just kept working on it and things got better and hopefully it will be even better than it was the last little while. I would say the last few games I have felt pretty good.”
Rebels associate coach Jeff Truitt is appreciative of Bartosak’s talents and work ethic, both of which convinced the Los Angeles Kings to select him in last year’s NHL entry draft.
“He’s been a real good student. He and Taylor have talked about not only this year but what he’s going to do as a pro,” said Truitt. “He’s 20 now so next season he’s going to play at that level and sometimes you have to relearn some things . . . it’s not all about being a good junior goaltender, but a good pro goaltender.
“Sometimes you have to take that step back and learn again, and then thrust it forward. He was lights out most of the month of December and really contributed to us staying in the playoff race.
“We saw last year how important goaltending can be. With Patty, when we do get outshot and do sometimes get outplayed, we know he’s back there giving us the best opportunity to win.”
Bartosak, as Truitt noted, is an intense competitor with the ability to shrug off a bad goal or a brief stretch of less-than-stellar play.
“The nice part about Patrik is he usually responds real well coming off a bad night or a bad period,” said Truitt. “He has such a burning desire in him that he wants to prove people wrong and he wants to continue to develop his mental strength, which is one of his major strengths.
“Every time I talk with him he says ‘I have to make saves and I want to stop pucks’, and that’s the way he’s been since I met him a year ago. He hasn’t wavered from that.”
Bartosak racked up some serious frequent-flyer points last summer. He returned to his home in the Czech Republic in April following the Rebels’ second-round playoff loss to Calgary, then boarded a flight to New Jersey for June’s ÑHL entry draft.
From there . . .
“I flew back (to the Czech Republic), then went to Los Angeles for (the King’s) development camp and went back home for a couple of weeks,” he said. “Then I travelled to L.A. again for a goalie camp in mid-August, came here for training camp and then back to L.A. for their camp.
“I was in Los Angeles like three times in two months. So that was kind of busy, the traveling was long — a flight from Europe to Los Angeles is almost 12 hours.
“That was hard, but those are the sacrifices I have to make and it helped me get used to the idea of dealing with all the travel as a pro.”
Bartosak has yet to put his name on an NHL contract, although he and his agent have stayed in touch with the Kings.
“We’ve talked, but the only thing I can do right now is just keep playing and trying to be as good as I can and hopefully (a contract) will come,” he stated. “If they (Kings) want to have me in their system for next year, they’ll have to sign me. If they don’t, they won’t sign me. We’ll see, but if our team keeps playing good I’ll be good for them and I think there will be a chance of signing, for sure.”