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Forget goals, Bertuzzi's goal in Detroit is victory

by Dan Rosen
STOCKHOLM -- Todd Bertuzzi felt like he was back in hockey school and Mike Babcock was the professor.

Even though Bertuzzi, a veteran entering his 14th NHL season, played in Detroit briefly in 2007, he was starting from scratch in this year's training camp. Some of his teammates and the coaching staff were familiar, but the system and style of play were basically brand new.

"Coming from a handful of different teams, everybody plays different and Detroit plays very different," Bertuzzi, who has changed teams five times since the work stoppage, told Wednesday. "It's a matter of breaking some of your old habits and learning some new ones. It's kind of tough when you have played 14 years and you have been playing a certain way for a while, but it's a learning process and they have been successful with it and won Cups with it. That's the main reason I came here."

In a summer that wasn't so kind to veteran free agents, Bertuzzi had to wait until mid August to find a team. He signed a one-year deal with the Red Wings and now feels like he struck gold.

He's expected to start the season playing on the left side of Henrik Zetterberg with Dan Cleary on the other wing. Zetterberg, who played his first and only preseason game Wednesday night in Karlstad, is the kind of player veterans looking for a fresh start usually only dream of playing with.

Bertuzzi knows he's one of the lucky ones.

"I'm one of those fortunate guys who ended up with a team of the decade type of team, so I'm very excited," Bertuzzi said. "It's nice knowing some of the guys in here and when you come in here you feel welcome right off the hop."

Babcock is impressed with Bertuzzi so far. The guy might be a mini-reclamation project right now after scoring 44 points in 66 games with Calgary last season, but Babcock seems excited to see what Bertuzzi can do in his second go-round with the Wings.

Bertuzzi played in only eight regular-season games at the end of the 2006-07 regular season and appeared in 16 playoff games. He combined for 11 points, but was playing with a sore back and never fully adapted to the system.

"The first time he came we hardly even talked about (the Wings style and system) because you couldn't," Babcock said. "It was going to be counter productive, so we just said, 'Do what you do and we'll get it worked out.'

"Now we have had some time in training camp and we've gotten to a point where he told me (Tuesday) the way he likes to be dealt with," Babcock continued. "Well, that makes it way easier for you when a guy is mature enough to tell you, 'Hey, this is what works for me and this is how you talk to me.' I think we're off to a good start, but the proof is always in the pudding. We're all going to watch, but he's playing with good players and he's just got to do his part."

Babcock has a clear vision of exactly what is required of Bertuzzi. It's actually not much different from what we have already come to expect of the 6-foot-3 power forward with 255 goals and 624 points in 859 career regular season games.

"What we do is we play a structured game so that the skill people can be really skilled. When you're all over the rink you end up checking one another," Babcock said. "The way we play is a real simple way, but because everyone knows where to go and what to do you all look better. So, he's just got to find his little niche in that. He's playing with real good players, but on this team we don't need him being cute or making any cute little plays. We need him being big, strong, physical, going to the net and hanging onto the puck. We have Pav and Fil and Z to make all those cute little plays.

"Just by talking to him, he wants to be that (powerful player)," Babcock continued. "Well, if he wants to be that, that's half the battle for a coach."

Since Bertuzzi wants to prolong his career beyond just this season, he plans on being the model student all year long.

"The days of chasing after scoring titles and goals, they're over," Bertuzzi said. "Obviously I have to hold up my end of the bargain and put the puck in the net here, but numbers and all of that are absolutely meaningless to me. It's about winning and I want to be put in a position where I can be successful as an individual and with the team. I'm fortunate to be in both of those kinds of situations here."
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