'Hockey player' Bertuzzi took career to another level this season

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — The compliment is simple and basic, but when talking about Tyler Bertuzzi, it really does fit.

Often, especially around either general manager Ken Holland or coach Jeff Blashill, when they get asked about Bertuzzi, one simple phrase keeps coming up.

Tyler Bertuzzi

“Tyler’s a hockey player,” they’ll say, with the utmost respect, praise and credit.

And it really is true.

Bertuzzi isn’t flashy. He isn’t the fastest, or strongest, or quickest or flashiest player on the ice.

But Bertuzzi is a hockey player, doing the hard work and getting results.

This season, Bertuzzi did his job as a hockey player so well it produced a career-high 21 goals, 26 assists and 47 points, and will earn him an invitation from Team Canada for the upcoming world championships.

In tandem with that statistical surge, the line Bertuzzi played on, with Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha, was one of the NHL’s best in the final weeks of the regular season.

“Our line, or whole team, was going,” said Bertuzzi, on the Wings’ cleaned out their lockers for the season last week. “When your team is winning, your individual stats will go, too. My linemates were good and we were jelling at that point.

“I learned a lot this season. This was my first full season and there’s a lot to learn. It went pretty well but there’s a lot of ups and downs, and there’s still a learning curve.”

During a season when few Red Wings players exceeded expectations, it’s safe to say Bertuzzi was one that did.

Bertuzzi was a consistent net-front presence, did the majority of the grunt work on Larkin’s line, and continued to be, arguably, the toughest player for opponents to play against in the Wings’ lineup.

“I’ve said this consistently all year, Bert, to me, has done a very, very good job,” coach Jeff Blashill said late in the season. “He’s really grown, just in front of our eyes right now, too. He’s just continuing to get better and better, (and) the consistency, to me, is the difference.”

For Blashill, it was Bertuzzi’s ability to play the same type of hard-working game every night that made Bertuzzi’s season so successful.

“You can’t have off nights and outplay people, the league is just too good,” Blashill said. “The players you’re playing against are equal or better than you on a consistent basis, so you can’t have off nighits. He’s done an excellent job of consistently playing really well.”

Larkin, whose offensive success was partly due to Bertuzzi’s success as a linemate and often Bertuzzi’s work around the net, spoke about Bertuzzi’s value to the team.

“He battles every night,” Larkin said. “He’s a fun guy to play with, always has a smile on his face and works hard. I love playing with him and I love him as a teammate.”

A small snapshot of Bertuzzi’s season occurred late in March, when Bertuzzi became the first Wings’ player ever to notch three points in four consecutive games.

The fact no other Wings’ player — such as Howe, Yzerman, Fedorov, Shanahan, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Lindsay, and the rest — accomplished it first baffled teammates.

“I was shocked by that,” goaltender Jimmy Howard said. “(But) great for Bert. He’s a hard worker, not flashy, but he plays with a lot of heart.”

Bertuzzi enjoyed setting the mark, but in predictable fashion, credited with his teammates and linemates.

“It was awesome for me and my family,” Bertuzzi said. “I thank my linemates and teammates for it. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be able to do that. When you’re winning, your stats will go higher.”

The Wings, comparatively, did more winning in the final weeks. They closed out the season winning eight of 11 games and served a little hope heading into next season.

Bertuzzi feels the core is there for the Wings to take a significant step forward in the standings next season.

“You look at our last 10 games it was something we can move forward on and learn from, pick little pieces from that streak that we went on,” Bertuzzi said. “We’re close. We’re right there and we compete very night and we’ll be better next year.

“We’re excited for next year.”