Detroit – Three summers ago, Ken Holland looked through the Plexiglas out at Tyler Bertuzzi on a rink at the Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City.
“Tyler’s a hockey player,” Holland said.
In the language of the sport, Holland’s assertion is among the finest compliments an NHL manager can offer.
Bertuzzi is a “hockey player,” among hockey players, because of his aptitude for the sport and his intuition that scoring goals and preventing them often results from dutiful, unglamorous work.
“Thinking the game well,” as they say, drives his performance.
And, while puck retrieving, establishing net-front presence, fore-checking, back-checking, blocking shots, agitating and “keeping the flies off” the stars are not listed on NHL scoresheets, they are important tasks.
For Bertuzzi, they seem the products of instinct, perhaps more than instruction.
And, hard work gets the job done.
His approach has proved successful when the big stuff is on the line. Bertuzzi is the Grand Rapids career leader in playoff goals, with 23.
For the Red Wings, with all the big stars are gone, it is a difficult juncture.
A “hockey player” can be handy thing.
How did he achieve the distinction?
“You know, my whole life I’ve just been working hard,” Bertuzzi said, about the description. “I’m just taking it day-by-day and trying to keep it simple, and just try to keep doing the things I need to do, to make the team I try out for.
“I like to hound the puck and block shots and play a gritty type of game. And, try to create offense, too.”
Show your stuff
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound, 23-year-old native of Sudbury, Ontario, looks a bit bigger this season.
Unfortunate with some injuries, Bertuzzi’s development has been set back. This could be an important season, especially given his role.
“I’m going to play the same way I’ve been playing for a long time, and a lot of these young guys are pushing for spots,” he said. “So, you’ve got to be on top of your A-game.
“You’ve got to show what you can bring to the table, every night.”
A wrist injury here, and ankle injury there, and other misfortunes have dotted his early, developmental years.
“It was frustrating,” Bertuzzi said. “I had maybe a month last year to work out and get back into things.”
Now, Bertuzzi seems to feel like he can finally have a full and proper takeoff for a season.
“It was my first full summer, basically, not hurt in probably three years, so I think it was a big summer for me,” he said.
“Three, four months of training really hard. I came into camp. I felt good.
“I gained a couple pounds of muscle,” he said. “I feel way better out there. Stronger, faster.”
The Red Wings hope the difference in performance helps fill the breach, with Henrik Zetterberg’s departure and several consecutive seasons of a roster in flux impacting the lineup.
“He’s certainly put in a lot of work in this summer, and he looks excellent,” Jeff Blashill said. “Strong on his skates, he wins puck battles.
“I think he’s an excellent hockey player. I know he’s put himself in a good position to have success.”
Playing with an edge
Stronger, stouter and faster, Bertuzzi thinks it will augment his scoring, especially getting to the goal crease. He got hot toward the end of last season, when he scored seven goals and assisted on 17 in 48 games played.
The previous season, Bertuzzi scored 12 goals and assisted on 25, in 48 games in Grand Rapids.
“I think I can score more goals,” he said. “I had a good finish to the season, last season. I showed myself that I can score up here.
“I’ve just got to keep getting to the net and getting some rebounds.”
He also tied a Griffins record for penalty minutes in a postseason with 50.
Bertuzzi plays with an edge, and the Red Wings would like him right up to it, but not across. His occasional undisciplined penalty can prove costly, and one of the opened the floodgates in Toronto, Friday, in the Wings' only loss of the preseason, 6-2.
There will be more time on ice this season for the players who can produce, and probably even some for those who cannot, in Zetterberg’s absence. Bertuzzi is looking to sop up some of those minutes.
He played on the power play in preseason.
In Holland’s description. Bertuzzi is a hockey player. His family is a hockey family.
Uncle Todd played 1,159 NHL games and compiled 770 points – 314 goals and 456 assists.
His cousin, Tag, is considered a top prospect for the 2019 draft. He plays in the Ontario Hockey League for Guelph, after playing for the Oakland Junior Grizzlies, in Troy.
Another cousin, Jaden, played locally, for Belle Tire, and Cranbrook Kingswood High, before she began concentrating on lacrosse in college.
“We have a hockey family,” he said. “I think when I was younger that kind of pushed me.”
Now that he is older, Bertuzzi takes care of quite a bit of the pushing, himself.
Time will tell if he can push the Red Wings too.
“Whatever hockey people want to say about us, we’re rebuilding, whatever, I think we have a team that can compete for a playoff spot,” Bertuzzi said.
“And, we’ve going to show that this year.”