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Bertuzzi bouncing back

by Shawn P. Roarke /

Todd Bertuzzi fights for the puck in a preseason hockey game on Sept. 21, 2007.
LONDON -- The message is loud and clear here in Anaheim’s camp as the days tick away to Saturday’s opening to the 2007-08 season with the first of two games against the Kings in the NHL Premiere Series set to take place at the O2 Arena.

Ignore Todd Bertuzzi at your own risk is that message, emanating from every corner of the Ducks’ dressing room, from the coaches’ room and from the general manager’s suite. Most importantly, the message is coming from the player himself -- not so much from his words, but through his actions.

It is a warning issued from London, but one that should be heeded across the pond by the NHL’s 28 other teams, as well.

“All Todd Bertuzzi has done is come in here and worked his butt off: he hasn’t been anything but a true professional,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. “He’s been everything that you would ask; he has been no distraction whatsoever. He’s trying to fit in. I think that the off-ice commitment he made during the summer is a statement for him.”

Bertuzzi approached the Ducks this summer and asked to join up. Coming off an injury-ravaged season that saw him play just 15 regular-season games, Bertuzzi was not in much a position to make demands. There were too many questions about Bertuzzi’s surgically repaired back and demeanor to term the market as a seller’s market.

Yet Anaheim GM Brian Burke was interested. Burke was GM of the Vancouver Canucks when Bertuzzi was at the apex as a player. In 2002-03, Bertuzzi had 46 goals and 97 points – both career highs – and Burke watched it all unfold. So, the match was natural as both player and manager would like to see those glory days return this season.

Bertuzzi is only 32-years-old, as hard as that may be to imagine. If healthy, he should be capable of playing the best hockey of what has already been a strong career. This, after all, is a top-drawer power forward that has 540 points in 725 regular-season games.

“There’s way less risk in signing Todd Bertuzzi than the speculation in the media that this is a big gamble,” Burke said. “We don’t see it that way. It doesn’t mean that you guys are wrong; but I’m much more comfortable with Todd because I had him as a player and I know his character.

“Our doctors, when he passed his physical, said there are no health issues that they are worried about. This is the lightest he’s been. He hasn’t played at this weight since he was 17. He looks great so far. Again, I know this player and I am not worried about him fitting in or what he can do on the ice.”

That’s the same message Bertuzzi sent by reporting to training camp in as good a condition as he has been in his career. He worked hard over the summer and got his weight down below 230 pounds for the first time since he entered the League. The results have been obvious.

“He’s well under what he was playing at, as a weight,” Carlyle said. “He’s under 230 and it shows when he skates out there. He’s moving very, very well.”

Bertuzzi has been quick to the puck in the preseason and his speed has stood the test when paired with some of Anaheim’s young thoroughbreds during the preseason. In fact, he will most likely open the season playing with Ryan Getzlaf, one of the elite young power forwards in the game today.

Bertuzzi had a goal and two assists to go along with a plus-2 rating in five preseason appearances. While not dominant, it was enough to suggest that Burke is well on his way toward winning this gamble.

Simply put, Todd Bertuzzi is a Brian Burke-type player. He is big and rugged. And, because of these things, Bertuzzi has always owned a special bond with the GM, going back to their days together in Vancouver.

Burke, for his part, is not shy about acknowledging his soft spot for Bertuzzi.

“I have good relationships with players that produce and players that work and he did that for me,” Burke said. “He’s a player that produced and worked his tail off for me – a first-team all-star, a 100-point player. There’s not much risk in my mind in bringing Todd Bertuzzi into our team.”

Brad May, a late-season addition to the Ducks last year and a valuable fourth-line presence in the club’s march to the Stanley Cup, agrees wholeheartedly with Burke’s thinking.

May is another one of those character guys that the Ducks have collected in the last two years and he is good friends with Bertuzzi from their time together with the Canucks.

“There is no mistaking this, we’re very, very good friends and our families are close and I was a happy guy when I heard that,” May said of the summertime announcement that Bertuzzi was in the fold.

May believes that Bertuzzi is a different player than the wrecking ball that ran over opposing defenses back in his Vancouver heyday. But May says that is not necessarily a bad thing.

“There’s no question we all change,” May said. “We all have to adapt and change. Obviously with (team) chemistry and different playing opportunities and roles, things change and you have to be able to adapt to roles.

Todd Bertuzzi is still a first-rate player. He was injured last year, but he still got off to a good start (seven points in seven games with Florida) and he ended half-decent in Detroit, as well. He went to the (Western) Conference Finals and almost beat us.”

Bertuzzi is in great shape and is raring to go for the defending Cup champs.
Bertuzzi appreciates all of the votes of confidence he can get, but he has been around the game enough and endured enough down times to know that is he, and he alone, that will determine exactly what this season will hold for him.

That’s why he has shown up in such good condition this fall. It’s also why he has agreed to change his game yet again. He understands now that adapting and fitting into a successful system is his best bet.

“I think it’s better; I’m a little more mobile,” he says of his slimmed-down frame. “Let’s face it, the League’s getting quicker and quicker and the young kids coming up are faster and faster -- and big. It’s either change with the times or get lost in the shuffle.”

And, Bertuzzi has no intention of getting lost in the shuffle.

He is in the process of returning to the north-south game that marked his dynamic entry into the League with the New York Islanders back in 1995.

To fit in with the Vancouver Canucks – and to play on the top line with talented center Markus Naslund – Bertuzzi spent several years playing the east-west game that is more prevalent in European hockey.

He will not be playing east-west hockey under Carlyle.

“We think he needs to be more of a straight-line player,” Carlyle said. “He has that offensive flair and he can do things. But through neutral ice, we want straight-out speed. We want to play a north-south game. We play straight up-and-down and he has the ability to use his power and use his skill to play north-south hockey and that is all we are asking him to do.”

That means that fans and opponents will hopefully once again see Bertuzzi regularly bulling his way into the offensive zone with a full head of steam behind him, making a beeline for the front of the net and running over any obstacles imprudently placed in his path. That element of his game has been missing for the last several years because of a near-constant battle with serious injuries.

“He’s done that for us,” Carlyle says. “We have not seen him shy away from those areas at all. We’re going to continue to ask him to go into those dirty areas because he is the type of player that takes two people to defend him. He’s big and strong and with his abilities, he can take two people to the net. If he can do that consistently, we think that would be one of the strongest assets for us.”

May is not sure about all that coach-speak when it comes to talking about his good buddy, Bertuzzi. But he is sure of this much: “He’s a hell of a hockey player and he is going to show it.”

Consider the message delivered, loud and clear.

”I’ll leave the coaching to Randy, but I agree with that assessment,” May said. “Our team plays north-south and for Todd to contribute in our system, he’s going to have to play that way."

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