Anyone who watches the St. Louis Blues AAA 18U hockey club over the course of the 2017-18 season might notice a familiar face behind the bench.
That’s because that familiar face is none other than Lubos Bartecko, a five-year National Hockey League veteran who is now head coach of the team and responsible for teaching a new generation of players what it takes to compete at a high level.
The opportunity came about for Bartecko after remaining in touch with the organization that he broke into the NHL with in 1998.
“For me, it was really interesting because I’m from Slovakia and when I started playing here [in North America], I started playing in St. Louis and I married a girl from St. Louis,” Bartecko explained. “So, I was always coming back and being around the Blues organization, the alumni and hanging around the boys that stayed here. And after I retired, I still kept in touch with all the guys.
“It was really a transition because I first got asked to help out with the 18s and I said, ‘Absolutely, I’d love to do that,’ and see how that’s going to translate from being a player for them over the years to come into coaching, but I got into it,” continued Bartecko, who played 257 regular-season games with the Blues and Atlanta Thrashers over the course of his career.
And what started as something he took an interest in has turned into something Bartecko has fully embraced because it affords him the opportunity to stay connected to the game he loves.
“I really like coaching the kids and helping our kids develop into junior players and beyond and it made it really easy to work with all the guys I work with because they’re great guys, and a lot of guys I played with like Jamie Rivers, Al MacInnis and Jeff Brown are all coaching together, so it was a really easy transition for me,” said Bartecko. “But it’s a totally different scenario being a player than a coach. I love it though.”
Defenseman Christian Berger is one of those players that Bartecko is getting a chance to work with this season. Berger, who earlier this season committed to continue his playing and academic careers at Penn State, says his coach has been a help to him both on and off the ice.
“We went to a movie recently and I got a chance to talk to him for a while, not only on his insight on hockey, but the whole experience of playing pro,” noted Berger. “What it’s like and what you need to do to get to the next level. It’s really helpful to have that insight. When you have a guy like that in your development, it can really make a difference.”
Bartecko feels like those moments when he can mentor his players is his opportunity to “pay it forward” and pass along the knowledge he collected over the course of his playing career.
“For me, it’s a great opportunity because I have a son who is 14 and he’s playing in the AAA program as well, so that makes it easy for me to be there,” said Bartecko. “But at the same time, I love it and it’s a great opportunity for me to give these guys a little bit more knowledge than what I had.”
While Berger adds that he and his teammates will respect and listen to anyone who is their coach, he admits that the credentials Bartecko brings into the dressing room have them paying a little bit closer attention.
“It’s pretty special,” said Berger. “We got to skate at Scottrade Center, he has some connections, even when he comes out and plays us, you can’t get the puck away from him. A guy like that who played several years in the NHL and over in Europe, I have a ton of respect for him.”
And not only is Bartecko coaching, but he’s coaching in a program with a rising profile nationally.
Blues AAA alumni like Matthew Tkachuk and Clayton Keller have been selected in the first round of recent NHL Entry Drafts and have gone on to make NHL debuts. Bartecko takes a lot of pride in playing a role in the rising profile of youth hockey in St. Louis.
“I think the St. Louis Blues, as an organization, are doing a really good job with youth hockey and promoting hockey in St. Louis,” said Bartecko. “And now that the Rams football team has left, I think the hockey community has filled the void and we have a lot of kids that want to play hockey, so it’s a great opportunity for retired players like me to stay there to try to help out and be there for them.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.