Patrik Bartosak was, at first, tongue-tied.
But then the graduating Red Deer Rebels netminder relented and spoke with the eloquence that he displayed while making a mind-boggling 4,546 saves in 145 regular-season games during his two and a half years with the Western Hockey League team.
Bartosak played his final game in a Rebels jersey in Tuesday’s 5-3 tie-breaker loss to the visiting Prince Albert Raiders. Less than 24 hours later, he talked about his time in Red Deer.
“I don’t even know what to say, it was a great time, a great experience and I’m really thankful for the chance I got here,” he said while facing the local media. “I got the chance to prove something in my career and I really enjoyed every minute, every second of being here. I’m grateful for that.”
The 20-year-old joined the Rebels out of the Czech Republic after being selected in the 2011 CHL import draft. He was an instant hit, backstopping a promising Red Deer team — a team that was gradually decimated by injuries — to 14 wins before suffering a severe shoulder ailment that required surgery and ended his rookie season.
“At that time my dream was to make the NHL . . . to get drafted and get signed,” he said. “It all happened actually, so I am thankful for that and for the time I got to spend here.”
Bartosak was passed over in the 2012 NHL entry draft and proved the NHL scouts wrong by turning in a magnificent 2012-13 campaign in which he was named both the WHL and CHL goaltender of the year. The Los Angeles Kings were convinced he was the real deal and picked him in the fifth round of last year’s draft.
“After the first year I thought I would get drafted, but I guess the shoulder injury didn’t help me,” he said. “So I tried as hard as I could the next year and it finally happened for me. But that was just the next step and now I have to keep going.
“It’s time to move on for me. I will join the Manchester Monarchs and just go from there.”
Bartosak recently inked a three-year deal with Los Angeles and will join the Monarchs — the Kings’ AHL affiliate — in short order. He flies to Boston today.
While the veteran stopper enjoyed another strong season this winter, he was naturally disappointed in the eventual outcome.
“The season wasn’t as good as we would like it to be, obviously. Our goal was to make playoffs and that didn’t happen, so that’s disappointing for us as a team,” he said.
“For me, personally, I wanted to achieve something with the team. But we didn’t, so it’s disappointing and sad but we have to deal with that.”
Bartosak took to Twitter after Tuesday’s season-ending loss to thank Rebels fans.
“It was not something I felt I had to do, more that I just wanted to do it,” he said. “The fans and the support here have been outstanding.”
Rhyse Dieno also played his final game as a Rebel Tuesday and along with Bartosak and fellow overage forward Lukas Sutter, whose season ended a month ago due to the need for shoulder surgery, will move on to the next stage of their respective lives.
Dieno was a nice find for Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, who plucked the five-foot-10 winger out of the junior A ranks in November of 2012. The Saskatoon native recorded a team-leading 59 points — including 27 goals — in just 48 games through the rest of the season, earning him an invitation to the Minnesota Wild rookie camp last fall.
Dieno had earlier WHL experience, with Kamloops and Medicine Hat, but both teams felt he was better served as a junior A player. While a member of the SJHL La Ronge Ice Wolves, he attended the Canada West selection camp — and eventually made the team for the World Junior A Challenge — and attracted the eye of a Rebels scout.
“I was in contact with Brent after the camp and every since he’s given me every opportunity. I’ve been on the power play, the penalty kill and have played on the first line,” said Dieno.
“It was definitely a great experience being here. The opportunity the Rebels gave me was something I never got with another (WHL) team and I’m really thankful for that. I definitely wish it wasn’t over and that we could have made more of a push.”
Dieno credited his teammates for helping him fit in quickly during his first season with the club.
“They were so supportive. Turner Elson was just a great guy all around when I first got here and he showed me the ways of the organization,” said Dieno. “I thought Maxie (Brooks Maxwell) and Turner and I played really well together and that’s where it started.”
Dieno’s play dropped off a bit in the first half of this season, but he was one of the club’s better players down the stretch and finished with 66 points (25-41) in 65 games.
“I thought I did well with the opportunity I was given. Overall, I really liked it here and wish I could play until I was 25.”
While Bartosak has secured a pro contract, Dieno isn’t sure of what his future holds.
“I’m hoping something will happen (in regards to playing pro),” he said. “It definitely would have been nice to have put up some numbers in the playoffs and lead our team into a better spot than we are today, but moving forward I want to thank the Rebels for the opportunity they gave me and hopefully it does open some doors for me.”