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Appreciating the journey

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – It’s been a busy couple of weeks for newcomer Victor Bartley.

Since being acquired by the Canadiens on Jan. 15 in a three-way deal with the Arizona Coyotes and Nashville Predators, Bartley spent some time with the big club before being assigned to the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps five days later. Unfortunately, the 27-year-old rearguard was injured in his IceCaps debut on Jan. 20 in Bridgeport, CT.

Despite the untimely setback, the four-year NHL veteran still has plenty to smile about knowing that he’s landed with an organization eager to see what he’s capable of.

Defenseman Victor Bartley joined the Canadiens in mid-January in St. Louis after being acquired in the Jarred Tinordi trade.

“They definitely want me to be here, so I’m looking forward to the opportunity. I was only down with St. John’s for a little bit. I’m rehabbing and trying to get going again,” said Bartley, who boasts 112 games of NHL experience on his resume – all in a Predators uniform – since making his NHL debut in 2012-13, amassing one goal and 23 points along the way. “Essentially, it’s been a very frustrating year for me. I didn’t get the ice time I wanted in Nashville. Things happened, and I was able to go down and play a lot [with the Predators’ AHL affiliate] in Milwaukee. I was playing well. I’m excited to come to a new team, though. I want to get in the lineup and stay there. I’m an NHL player. After a game or two, I can prove it. My goal is to get healthy, be prepared to jump into games with the Canadiens, and be an effective contributor.”

What Bartley brings along with him to the CH is a penchant for throwing his weight around and sacrificing his six-foot, 208-pound frame to help keep opponents off the scoresheet. During his time in Music City, Bartley dished out 195 hits and amassed 165 blocked shots while averaging just over 15-and-a-half minutes of ice time per outing.

“Today’s game is more so about defensemen jumping up in the attack and the emphasis really isn’t so much on the physicality side. It’s something I like to bring to the table – being physical in my own end, making big hits, blocking shots. It’s something that I take pride in,” explained Bartley, who also made his presence felt during his playoff debut last season, where he registered 10 hits in four appearances against the Chicago Blackhawks. “It’s something that’s kind of been forgotten, but it can be a valuable asset to a team, especially on the penalty kill. It’s definitely one of my strengths.”

It certainly didn’t hurt Bartley’s cause to learn the tricks of the NHL trade over the last few seasons under the watchful eye of Predators assistant coach – and Hall-of-Famer – Phil Housley, who played for eight different teams during a 22-year career that included 1,495 games on the blue line.

Bartley debuted with the AHL's St. John's IceCaps on Jan. 20 against Bridgeport.

“His biggest thing was – ‘If you see a play, you make it. Don’t second guess yourself. Be confident in your decision-making’. Especially with the type of game that I had to play there, I had to be strong down low, I had to stick up for my teammates and I had to hit guys all the time. I’d been more of a points guy in Junior and my minor league career, but to get to the NHL I had to adapt my game to survive,” admitted Bartley, who competed against the likes of Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, Seth Jones and Barret Jackman for a spot on Nashville’s back end earlier this season, which wasn’t an easy task by any means. “It’s something I’ve become accustomed to doing. It’s not the most enjoyable thing to do, but everyone has a purpose and a role on their team. There, my role was to buy into that system and I think I did that to the best of my abilities. Phil expanded my game a lot, and I really picked his brain.”

Housley is one of many mentors Bartley has had over the course of a hockey journey that began in Ottawa – where he lived until age 5 – before his family eventually settled down in Maple Ridge, BC after his father was stationed in nearby Vancouver while a member of the Canadian Armed Forces. He went on to play five years of Junior hockey with the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers and Regina Pats prior to making the jump to the pros.

Undrafted by NHL clubs, Bartley donned the colours of the AHL’s Providence Bruins and Bridgeport Sound Tigers, and the ECHL’s Utah Grizzlies, before ultimately taking his game overseas to Sweden’s second-division Rögle BK squad in 2010-11. He seized the opportunity to ply his trade in Europe, ranking second among league defensemen in points and assists, and tied for third in goals.

“It was a weird situation. When I was 21, I split time with Utah and Bridgeport. I played 21 games in the ECHL, and then I got called up to the AHL, played well and then tore my tricep. My rehab was almost six months long. Teams weren’t willing to take a shot on me because of it, so I headed off to Sweden. I went there with no expectations at all. I was there to have fun. But, that’s where my game was re-defined and got polished,” said Bartley, who put up 11 goals and 34 points in 52 games with Rögle that season. “I enjoyed the hockey. The game is so different over there. It’s so wide open. It was just one of those things where had I stayed in North America and battled it out in the AHL and ECHL, I’d probably still mainly be down there. That was one of the defining moments of my life.”

Bartley is proud to be a role model for youngsters of Asian descent. His mom is Taiwanese, and his parents currently reside in Malaysia.

Bartley’s success in Scandinavia led to him signing his first NHL contract – a two-year, two-way deal with Nashville – in May 2011. It was the achievement of a lifelong dream that was made all the more real nearly two years later when he suited up in the NHL ranks for the first time on Mar. 8, 2013 at Bridgestone Arena against the Edmonton Oilers.

“It’s definitely been a long path. One of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced was going through the NHL Draft. I went to the NHL Combine, and I thought I’d tested well. People told me I was going to be selected, and it never happened. Ever since then, I think it’s been about proving people wrong again, again and again. That’s kind of my driving force day after day,” admitted Bartley, a veteran of 149 AHL games over the years. “Now, I look at being undrafted as a blessing in disguise. I was never a guy with a ton of skill growing up, but I always believed I was going to make it because of my work ethic. I got that from my folks. They’ve always been blue-collar people. Year after year, I was playing better and I was beating guys with better credentials than me. I just kept improving. I’ve always been a positive and optimistic person. I believe that good things happen to good people.”

As for joining the Montreal Canadiens organization, Bartley can’t wait to see what the future has in store.

“It will be amazing to wear that jersey one day. Everyone knows the history of the franchise. It gives me shivers knowing that I might be able to put it on and play for a Canadian team. That will be something special to show friends and family back home, the fact that this is really happening,” said Bartley, who currently sports No. 22 with St. John’s. “It’s been a breath of fresh air so far. The guys have been great to me in Montreal. It didn’t take long for me to feel like I was a part of the team.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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