The insolence is gone. So is the arrogance and brooding. Instead of carrying a chip on his shoulder, Bertuzzi seems happy to have caught the life raft the Detroit Red Wings have tossed him and his NHL career.
“I’m very fortune to be in the position I’m in,” Bertuzzi said Monday about being involved in the chase for the Stanley Cup. “When you’re in this position you want to make sure you take full advantage of it and enjoy it. You never know when you’re going to be back.”
Bertuzzi and the Red Wings are trying to overcome a 4-3 overtime loss in Game 2 Sunday that evened their NHL Western Conference final against the Anaheim Ducks. Game 3 of the best-of-seven series goes Tuesday in Anaheim (9 p.m. ET).
After splitting the opening matches in Detroit, the Red Wings know they need to pick up their game on the road.
“We need to do everything different,” said Bertuzzi. “We need to play with more urgency, pick up our physical play and hold onto the puck.”
Bertuzzi’s season looked like a disaster movie in the making. After eight sometimes turbulent years in Vancouver he was dealt to Florida last spring in a deal that brought goaltender Roberto Luongo to the Canucks.
Luongo went on to be nominated as a league MVP. Bertuzzi, in the last year of a contract that paid him US$5.27 million, played just seven games before being sidelined for most of the season with lower back surgery in November.
At the trade deadline the Red Wings took a gamble and obtained Bertuzzi, 32, sending forward Shawn Matthias and up to two conditional draft picks to Florida.
Suddenly the kid who grew up in Sudbury, Ont., was wearing the same sweater as greats like Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay.
“It’s pretty special,” said Bertuzzi. “This is such a respectful team.”
Bertuzzi left Vancouver painted as a villain. There were accusations his deteriorating relationship with former coach Marc Crawford poisoned the Canuck dressing room.
He also still carried the black cloud of his March 8, 2004, attack from behind on Steve Moore, then of the Colorado Avalanche.
That earned Bertuzzi a 17-month suspension. Moore, who hasn’t played hockey since, has filed a $19.5-million civil suit filed.
Bertuzzi, who often could be caustic, sometimes rude to the media, now seems to accept some responsibility for his tarnished image.
“There’s been times where I can see the media being frustrated with myself,” he said. “I understand that.
“It was a lot to handle with the media coverage and everything going on. I was young and didn’t understand the full effect of it.”
Bertuzzi holds no ill will toward the Canucks or general manager Dave Nonis for trading him.
“I’m not the type of guy that leaves and hopes there’s a disaster there,” he said. “Dave Nonis is too much of a quality guy and I have a pretty good friendship with him to let bad blood come to anything.”
What’s different about Bertuzzi is he seems satisfied to be part of the whole. In his days in Vancouver the big right-winger was a focal point of attention. On a Red Wing team full of tradition he’s been humbled into accepting a supporting role.
In 12 playoff games Bertuzzi has averaged 14:37 of ice time. He has one goal and three assists.
Instead of being a front-line player expected to generate offence, he now throws his six-foot-three, 242 pounds around like a battering ram on a checking line.
“I’m not going to lie to you, it’s not a position I relish,” he admitted, wiping sweat from his face. “If you want to be a part of this team, you have to tow the rope.
“That’s what it takes to win championships. It’s guys putting their egos on the side and towing the rope in order to get things done.”
Coach Mike Babcock praised Bertuzzi for adapting to his role.
“Bert, for me, has been nothing but classy and great to deal with, very coachable,” said Babcock. “We think he’s been good.
“He’s got a real simple role with us. Be strong on the wall, get the puck in, get on the forecheck, take it to the net hard, try to hang on to the puck as long as you can and be a physical factor.”
The Ducks hope to improve on their special teams Tuesday. Anaheim is 0-12 on the power play against Detroit and allowed a short-handed goal Sunday. The Ducks have also given up four goals on 11 Red Wing power plays.
“We’ve got to be better in some areas,” said Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle. “I don’t think we want to continue to lose special-team battles in this series.”
Bertuzzi hopes the slide in his career has stopped. He looked on the brink of being a superstar when he scored 46 goals and 51 assists as a Canuck in 2002-03. He managed just 42 goals over the next two seasons.
He becomes a free agent in July but hasn’t thought that far ahead.
“I’m here and I just want to win,” he said. “When ever you are given an opportunity to come in and be on a winning team you want to take full advantage of it.
“I’m here to try and win the Cup and help this team out. Individual stuff, it all takes care of itself, especially when you are on a winning team.”