While his Brandon Wheat Kings teammates were put through the paces Wednesday at Westman Place, Alessio Bertaggia watched from the stands and enjoyed some well-earned rest.
Yesterday was the first chance for Bertaggia to catch his breath — he arrived back in Brandon at 3 a.m., Tuesday and was in the lineup against the Calgary Hitmen 16 hours later — after a whirlwind month that included competing in the world junior hockey championship in Ufa, Russia, and signing his first professional contract in Switzerland.
The 19-year-old winger played a key role in helping the spunky Swiss finish sixth in the championship, a result that was very nearly better as the team came within a couple minutes of upsetting the host Russians in the quarter-finals before eventually succumbing 4-3 in a shootout. Every Swiss loss until their 4-3 defeat to the Czech Republic in the fifth-place game came in overtime or a shootout. Although he can’t help but wonder what might have been, Bertaggia was proud of the way he and his teammates performed in his last tour of duty for the country’s national junior program.
"We played together for almost four, five years," said Bertaggia, who finished his second world junior championship with two goals and two assists in six games. "It’s sad that now we’re not going to play junior anymore and lots of guys you’re not going to end up playing with them anymore, but I think we were like a big family. … We were happy together, we did a lot of stuff on the ice and off the ice. It was a great feeling."
Bertaggia’s most notable moment came in the quarter-final loss to Russia when he scored a shootout goal that kept his team alive, only to be stopped when he was sent out for the very next shot with the game on the line again. It was a devastating end to the tournament, but a game Bertaggia will remember for the rest of his life.
"All the guys were ready and focused before the game," said Bertaggia, whose team led 3-2 before giving up the tying goal on a power play with only 1:39 left in the third period. "Beating Russia in Russia could have been a great thing and gave a lot of confidence (to the Swiss players). The emotion was unbelieveable. The fans were cheering for Russia all the time, not for Switzerland, but it was a great experience."
Prior to the tournament, Bertaggia mapped out the first steps of his pro career, signing with EV Zug of the top Swiss league — a two-year deal that kicks in next season. It was an exciting moment for a player whose father, Sandro, has had a lengthy playing and coaching career in the league.
"I try to do something before world juniors so I could just not worry about it and play," Bertaggia said. "So I’m really happy about it and I’m really looking forward to it, but I’m here in Brandon and I’m focusing here and I want to win here."
The question is, will he get the chance? The Wheat Kings’ leading scorer, with 16 goals and 18 assists in 30 games, the 19-year-old is sure to draw interest before today’s 4 p.m. CT Western Hockey League trade deadline, particularly since he is turning pro next season.
"Obviously I was thinking about (the possibility of being traded), but I just play and practise hard all the time and if it happens, you can’t control it," he said. "Obviously I want to play in Brandon, but if it just happens I’ve got to go forward and keep playing."