As hockey reopens, Tyler Bertuzzi disappointed Red Wings not part of it

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Tyler Bertuzzi was headed to the golf course Monday but would rather have been headed to the rink.

Bertuzzi is seeing friends around the NHL go back on the ice to finish this suspended season — it’s suddenly hockey season again in some parts of North America — and he wishes the Red Wings would still be playing.

The Wings’ season ended on March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic — and no one knows exactly when next season will begin.

Tyler Bertuzzi tallied 21 goals and 27 assists in 71 games this past season.

“Everybody wanted to finish the season, all the 11 games left,”  said Bertuzzi, who was headed to a local golf course north of Toronto. “You could get better as a team, individually. We love hockey and it’s what we do for a living.

“A lot of us were upset that we couldn’t finish.”

Bertuzzi, like many of the players on the seven teams who didn’t qualify for the NHL’s return-to-play plan, have entered into offseason mode.

A lot of gym work and mostly off-ice stuff, with no skating until rinks begin opening up either in Detroit or the Sudbury, Ontario area where Bertuzzi spends part of the summer.

And it could be a long, long offseason.

“We don’t even know when the season will start up again,” Bertuzzi said. “We know this offseason is going to be longer than usual. We just have to prepared for whatever.

“As more stuff opens up, more rinks will open, and we’ll get on the ice together as training camps or minicamps. I’m just playing it by ear and taking it day by day.”

The Wings had a difficult season, no question about it, and finished with the NHL’s worst record. But Bertuzzi, individually, had his second consecutive 21-goal season, was the Wings’ representative to the All-Star Game, and further solidified as a key piece of the team’s core going forward.

The Bertuzzi, Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha line again showed flashes of being one of the NHL’s best.

But, the losing this season, that hurt a lot. That was a gut-punch greater than any individual accomplishment.

“It’s tough not winning as much you want,” Bertuzzi said. “But I have to give it to our team in that we had a great group of guys, we stuck together, and we worked hard every night. We tried to work our hardest. Everyone knows we’re in a rebuild and we’re going to get better.

“We’ll look back at this season and what we did right and wrong, and we’ll go on from here.”

Despite the individual bright spots, Bertuzzi, who is still only 25 and a restricted free agent this offseason, knows there’s more that he can do individually.

“I was real happy with my season but obviously there are games I could have done better, did more,” Bertuzzi said. “We all want to make ourselves better every day. I felt I had pretty good season, I worked hard every night and tried to give ourselves a chance to win.

“Everyone is going to have a long offseason, a lot of time to train hard and prepare for next season. Skating is something that’s always going to be (an issue for Bertuzzi). Now I’m getting older. I just have to stick with it and get stronger, get my lower body stronger.”

One area that Bertuzzi feels he needs to get better at is staying within his style of gritty play and not getting away from that.

When Bertuzzi gets too cute on the ice or tries to become too much of a playmaker rather than a blood-and-guts player, that’s when his game suffers, which coach Jeff Blashill has mentioned at times throughout Bertuzzi’s career.

“That’s just my personality,” Bertuzzi said. “Blash has talked about that and I agree with him. We’ve talked about it, for sure. I have to concentrate on what I do best and do that best.

“As much as I can limit all the extra things, I can be a better player.”

Blashill talked last season about how Bertuzzi had grown into earning a larger opportunity this season.

“Opportunity is a big deal in production, there’s no doubt about it,” Blashill said. “Opportunity, now he’s earned it. He’s playing on that top line, he’s playing with real good players, playing on the power play.

“So certainly opportunity is part of it, and then part of it is just the growth of him as a player. He’s grown over the years he’s been here, and he’s continued to get better and better.”

Bertuzzi feels he complements what Larkin and Mantha can bring to the ice, something everyone on the line does.

“We all bring something different,” Bertuzzi said. “But we all know we can be better as a line, whether it’s defensively, being a shut down, we have more to give. We’re all looking forward to the years to come.”

But for now, Bertuzzi is working on improving that golf game of his.

“It’s OK but not where it could be,” he said.

Twitter: @tkulfan