When Victor Bartley tore his tricep at the beginning of 2010, effectively ending his season with the American Hockey League’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers, little did he know it would set off a chain of events leading him to an NHL contract.
The 23-year-old Maple Ridge defenceman hasn’t taken the most direct route to the big show, but after signing a two-year contract with the Nashville Predators, his dreams of playing in the NHL are closer than ever.
“It’s funny how things have turned out,” he says.
In a game against the Albany River Rats, Bartley pushed off an opposing player with his left arm, resulting in an ominous popping sound as his muscle tore. Bartley underwent surgery to repair his arm, and was told to stay away from the puck.
But he could still skate.
Working with the Tigers training staff, he focused solely on his skating during his recuperation.
“Basically, I did nothing but power skating, six days a week, for three months straight,” Bartley says.
The results have been dramatic.
“It’s completely changed my game and allowed me to do things I haven’t been able to do before,” he says.
With the added speed, he has been able to contribute offensively without having to worry about not being able to get back on defence.
Despite the strides Bartley took during his time off with injury, he still found himself without a team to play for at the end of the season. When his agent called him and asked if he would be interested in playing in Sweden, he was intrigued at the prospect.
“I had never thought of going over there, but it turned out to be the best thing for me,” says Bartley.
He eventually signed with Rogle BK, and although the team plays in Sweden’s second tier professional league, Bartley says he was unprepared for the amount of work the players put in.
Each day started with a 1.5 to two hours of high tempo working out in the gym, followed by and hour and a half of power skating. After lunch the team went back on the ice for more than two hours of drills and systems.
“It was a total culture shock,” Bartley says. “I have never worked so hard in my life.”
After a rough preseason, Bartley soon found his stride. The team finished with a 26-11-5 record, and Bartley finished with 34 points in 52 games, averaging more than a point per game in the latter half of the season.
“By the end of the season, I felt like I could do no wrong on the ice,” he says.
Among the highlights was twice-beating the top tier Modo club, managed by former Canuck Markus Naslund.
“They have more than 700 NHL games of experience on their roster,” Bartley says. “We had zero.”
Bartley’s progression as a hockey player did not go unnoticed. Before long he was fielding multiple offers from NHL clubs for his services.
“There were more lucrative offers, but I felt Nashville would give me the best shot to make the NHL,” he says. “They have a great track record for developing defencemen, and for giving late-bloomers a second chance.”
One such young defenceman is Jonathon Blum, who Bartley knows well from his days in the WHL when Bartley’s Kamloops Blazers played in the same division has Blum and the Vancouver Giantst.
“He’s a great young player,” Bartley says. “I’m hoping to play with him
Since returning from Sweden, Bartley has been training with Adam Francilia at Fitlife Centre for Health and Performance in Maple Ridge, along with NHLers Andrew Ladd, Brandon Yip and James Reimer, the latter of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The goal this summer as every summer is to break his body down, and rebuild it again. His training regimen begins the second wakes up in the morning, and everything he eats is strictly regimented.
“It’s a full-time job, but I don’t think of it like a job,” he says. “I get to wake up every morning and do what I love.”
At six-foot-one and 210 pounds, Bartley has filled out considerably since he went undrafted in 2006.
Training with fellow a Maple Ridge product in Yip has given him further inspiration not give up on his dream of playing in the NHL.
After finishing his NCAA career with Boston University, Yip was given his first shot in the NHL at age 24 with the Colorado Avalanche. Since then Yip has notched 41 points in 103 games in the NHL.
“He never gave up on his dream, and look where he is,” says Bartley, who is in Nashville for the Predators’ development camp this week and where he hopes to make an impression on the team’s coaching staff.
He knows there is a good possibility he will start the season with Nashville’s AHL affiliate in Milwaukee, but his goal is to make it to the NHL this season.
Looking back, he wonders what would have happened had he not injured himself a year and a half ago.
“It goes to show, with every negative there’s a positive,” he says.