DETROIT – Obviously, Todd Bertuzzi and the rest of the Red Wings are relieved that the NHL decided not to pursue further disciplinary action after the veteran forward’s hit to the head of Chicago’s Ryan Johnson Monday night. The hit, which occurred on a tough play as Johnson was skating out of the Chicago end, earned Bertuzzi his first game misconduct in seven years.
“I thought he was in a really bad spot so I tried to ease up and go with my side and tried to hit him more with my butt in the stomach than anything,” Bertuzzi said after Wednesday’s morning skate. “I know if I went straight on I could have hit him pretty hard.
“If it was a guy who hits all the time and knows how to hit properly, I could’ve hit him really hard. He had his head down coming around the net, coming around the corner trying to make a hockey play, which you have to respect. ... I could’ve hit him really hard so I tried to ease up. When I eased up, your body goes a little bit loose and I caught him with one of my armpits.”
In a season plagued with serious and high-profile head injuries, the line between a strong hockey play and an illegal cheap shot is thinner than ever in the NHL. Bertuzzi’s hit on Monday illustrates how difficult the balancing act can be.
“If you see a guy like that you got to finish your check,” Bertuzzi said. “That’s what we’re paid to do and told to do. But at the same time you don’t want to, I don’t want to put the guy through the boards. For what? But I got to finish my check on him and make sure that he knows I’m there and I got to try to get the puck. At the same time, I try to do the right thing, and it almost kind of got away a little bit. I’m glad he’s fine. You don’t want to see anyone get hurt.”
It was reported that following the hit on Johnson, Bertuzzi met with the Blackhawks’ center during the first intermission, and apologized.
“It was just something me and him discussed, and we’ll just leave it at that,” Bertuzzi said.
To some, Bertuzzi’s hit rekindled memories of the veteran forward’s past, in which he was suspended for two years after injuring Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Moore. Wings coach Mike Babcock doesn’t see this as an issue, however.
“I think Bert has had one incident,” Babcock said. “The incident went real bad on him. … I think it’s something we talk about day after day after day for no reason. There hasn’t been anything that I’ve seen him do since he’s been with the Red Wings, in the two and a half or whatever years he’s been here, that indicate any of that. He finished the check last game.
“There’s going to be some contact to some heads in the league when guys are not trying to do it. That’s the reality.”