For many hockey players, one of the hardest parts of breaking into the NHL is getting a foot in the door. And even if you do find your footing, it can be just as tough trying to keep it. Penguins defenseman Robert Bortuzzo has had his foot in the proverbial door for some time now, and is doing everything in his power to keep it from closing.
Bortuzzo, 25, is in his sixth year with the Penguins organization after turning pro for the 2009-10 season, and has slowly been finding his niche within the club’s starting roster. This season, the Thunder Bay native has been in and out of the lineup for a number of different reasons, but that has been keeping him hungrier than ever.
“It’s been a process (staying in the NHL),” Bortuzzo said. “I’m fortunate to have good coaches and players around me to help me develop. It’s something I’m continuing to work on, getting more ice time, contributing as much as possible. You never want to stop growing as a player and fortunately I’m in a good position to do that here.”
One way Bortuzzo pushes himself to get better is by using valuable practice time to his advantage. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound blueliner is almost always one of the first players out on the ice on practice day or before a morning skate. Fellow defenseman Rob Scuderi has come to appreciate that drive he sees in his teammate.
“Sometimes when that’s your role, you have to do those things, but he goes on and volunteers,” Scuderi said. “He does the shots before practice to warm up the goalies and he’ll stay after if the goalies need work. That’s just the type of teammate he is.”
Bortuzzo is thankful to have mentors like Scuderi playing alongside him. It gives the Penguins’ 2007 third-round draft pick a chance to pick up some pointers.
“(Scuderi) is definitely a guy who I can bounce some things off of,” Bortuzzo said. “(Paul Martin) is another guy. If I have questions about plays, even things like just being a professional, those are two great guys to look to.”
Another valuable characteristic that Bortuzzo’s teammates have come to enjoy is his locker room persona.
“I’ve known (Bortuzzo) since we came into professional hockey,” forward Zach Sill said. “He’s a really funny guy. He’s got a dry sense of humor and he keeps things light around the room and he’s a great player too.”
Head coach Mike Johnston agrees.
“There are certain guys called glue guys on the team and he’s one of those guys,” Johnston said. “He helps galvanize the team. He’s a great chemistry guy. He plays with emotion. Guys really respect players like that and he has that type of respect in this group.”
To Bortuzzo, being that type of guy in the room is something that is second nature.
“I do what I can in the locker room to be a good character guy,” Bortuzzo said. “It’s not hard when you have a great group of guys here and they make it really easy to come to the rink and have fun everyday.”
Bortuzzo’s drive and determination to get better along with his personality are all important factors for his success. He believes these are the keys for him to accomplishing his personal goals.
“I want to step into a top-four role and be a high-end penalty kill guy who’s physical and who can play some high-end minutes against some high-end skill,” Bortuzzo said. “That’s all part of the process of growing, and that’s what I hope to do here.”