While there’s usually no such thing as a sure bet in sports, two things come pretty close – Dean Lombardi is going to package some assets to move up or down a few spots at the NHL Draft and he’s likely to select a goaltender.
Since taking over the Kings’ GM job in 2006, he’s picked up six netminders in those eight drafts. At the same time, it’s almost mind boggling to think about the transformation the organization has gone through over such a short span, moving from a team with a rather horrific goaltending history, to being one of the deepest teams in the entire league between the pipes.
Having already come to love guys like Jonathan Quick (who wasn’t actually drafted by Lombardi, but turned pro and was developed on his watch), Jonathan Bernier, and more recently, Martin Jones, you may start to hear two other names now come the surface – J.F. Berube and Patrik Bartosak.
We’ll take a look at Berube in an article later this season, as he’s currently the top goaltender for the Manchester Monarchs, where he’s primed for a deep playoff run in the AHL post-season.
Meanwhile, Bartosak is the newest name to be added to the Kings goaltending pool, having been selected in the fifth round at last June’s Draft. The 20-year-old Czech Republic native certainly doesn’t come with a modest reputation either; he was named the top goaltender in all of Canadian major junior hockey last season.
Currently fighting for a playoff spot in the WHL’s Eastern Conference with his Red Deer Rebel teammates, Bartosak isn’t living on his personal success of last season, but rather looking ahead to what’s in front of him.
"I try not to focus on what happened last season, but I can definitely feel the pressure,” he said. “Everybody expects more from me now. But that's why I play hockey. Looking at my stats is not really important to me. I'm just really trying to focus on winning the games and being there for the guys when they need me, and if I have a bad game or if I struggle a little bit, I believe in them to bail me out. It goes the other way too, if they're not playing their best game, I'm just trying to be there for them. So I'm not really focusing on my personal stats this year. This is my last year in the juniors and I just want to make the playoffs and get as far as we can there."
As tends to happen over the course of a long hockey season, Red Deer has been experiencing the ebb and flow that can occur over the course of so many months of action. They were on a roll around Christmas time, winning six straight games and beating several teams ahead of them in the standings, like Calgary and Edmonton. Lately, they’ve gone through a real rough couple of weeks and are trying to dig their way out of it.
Adversity is par for the course for most athletes and Bartosak is fortunate enough to have at least one family member who can relate to what he’s going through at any given time.
As a child, Bartosak and his family would often travel to North America for Christmas each winter. When he was four years old, his uncle, Ottawa Senators forward Radek Bonk, bought him his first pair of skates.
“He was definitely my idol all the time and I wanted to play in the NHL like he did,” recalls Bartosak. “I was always looking up to him. Playing for my hometown team, his dad - (who is) my grandpa - was my coach for eight or nine years. That was definitely a big influence for me, knowing that he also had coached my uncle.”
He was also given a flavor of what being a top-tier athlete was like when he left his hometown and moved to a bigger city and a better league at age 14.
“That was the place where I actually got to know what the professional hockey life was. There were a lot of pros walking around and I got to meet a lot of those players that played in the Czech professional league there. I played there for four years, but my dream was always to play in North America and make it in the NHL.”
Being drafted by the Kings was just the latest step in the process of reaching his eventual goal. After posting a 2.26 goals against average with a .935 save percentage in Red Deer last season, his numbers have slipped a bit this season, as he currently carries a 2.91 GAA and .921 SV%.
“A lot of the mental growth that you see in athletes comes from experience and experiencing different things, highs and lows,” said Kim Dillabaugh, who along with Bill Ranford, is the Kings’ goalie whisperer. “It’s our job as coaches and people on the development side to help manage them through those types of situations - how they learn from it, what they pull and how they deal and manage it - and make sure they come out of it the right way and use those things for a positive down the road. When we had [Bartosak] at Development Camp last July, it was more about us getting to know him a little bit better, trying to understand his background a little bit better in terms of him as a person and as a goaltender, and [for] him to get familiar with us and how we teach the game and approach our goaltenders within our organization.”
Overall, it’s a process and a relationship Dillabaugh has continued to nurture since then, including visiting Bartosak in Red Deer recently, where they met for lunch.
“He’s still property of the Red Deer Rebels,” Dillabaugh said, when asked about the tone of their chat. “So for us, it’s just to make sure that we’re keeping tabs on him and doing anything that we can to support him throughout the course of the season. It was trying to see where he’s at [with his game], get a chance to watch him play a few games [and observe] some of the areas that we worked on with him when he was in L.A. It’s really nothing more than that, in terms of the impact or how much we give somebody like Patrik, who is in the middle of his season and playing for a team that is in a race to make the playoffs.”
And without making too much out of what was essentially a glorified scrimmage game, Dillabaugh did offer some thoughts on last September’s Rookie Game, where Bartosak faced the a squad of Anaheim Ducks prospects.
“You want to see, with all our players, when we’re giving them things to work on, you want to see progress and growth in those areas,” he explained. “You want to see if they can incorporate those things in live game scenarios. So, you definitely look for that. Even though it was obviously a rookie game, for him, it was his first experience playing in an NHL uniform, and you’re just watching how he responds in certain situations. You’re trying to get a feel for him as a goaltender and if the things he does at the junior level can translate.”
Eight months after he was drafted by the Kings, the reviews remain positive. “He has a lot of characteristics and assets that we believe are necessary to be the lead goaltender,” Dillabaugh summarized.
Despite that type of praise, Bartosak is well aware he still needs to put in a lot of work before ever reaching the NHL.
"There are definitely a couple of adjustments I have to make in order to get better,” he shared. “Staying more patient on shots on the ice and getting my lower body stronger than it's been. Those are the things I try to focus on the most and I'm working on as much as I can."
Never one to set the bar too low, he’s also placed another item on his to-do list after watching the recent Olympics in Sochi.
“Our guys didn't really do well this year,” he proclaimed. “So I’ve set myself a goal to make the Olympics in four years and try to be there for them. Hopefully that dream comes true."