BEVERY HILLS, Mich.
– Rarely this year has Todd Bertuzzi
failed to score in crucial shootout situations, even against some of the best goalies in the NHL. But Thursday afternoon saw the forward shut-down by none other than an elementary school teacher.
In front of a crowd of cheering schoolchildren, it was up to Big Bert to help a team of students from Greenfield Elementary School beat their teachers in a floor hockey shootout.
Shooting last for the students, Bertuzzi stick-handled the puck up the left-hand side of the makeshift “arena,” brought the puck across the goalie’s crease and went for a top-shelf backhander – to no avail.
“She caught me off guard,” Bertuzzi said of the teachers’ chosen netminder. “That was one of my go-to moves but she held her ground and did well.”
As part of the Red Wings school assembly program, Bertuzzi visited the elementary school in Oakland County to help introduce students to the sport of hockey while encouraging healthy and active lifestyles.
Thursday’s assembly marked the 92nd school visit this season for the Wings’ marketing department, part of the school assembly’s pledge to visit 100 schools by season’s end.
Launched in 2010 and sponsored by the Detroit Red Wings Foundation and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, the program offers lessons on exercise and healthy eating, in addition to competitive face-offs between students and teachers in a floor hockey shootout.
Although not all of the school visits feature Red Wings’ players, Thursday’s visit allowed the youngsters an opportunity to ask Bertuzzi questions and hear what he had to say about the importance of education and a healthful lifestyle.
With two children of his own, the right-winger was able to offer firsthand advice to the kids on some of his family’s favorite activities.
“One thing I do a lot now is skipping,” Bertuzzi said when asked what kinds of exercise he does in his free time. “I love skipping. My daughter is very good at it. My son has a little bit heavy feet so we’ve been working at it. Last night for about 10-minutes we practiced without the rope to get his timing down, then we put the rope in for about a half hour and figured it out. I think it’s a good exercise to get quick feet and a way to get some exercise in.”
Although he admitted that he wished he had done better in school, Bertuzzi is no stranger to studying, and offered the kids advice on two themes for the day: education and dedication.
“We do a lot of video studying,” Bertuzzi said. “And if you don’t know where you’re supposed to go, the play doesn’t happen and you don’t look too good out there. So you want to make sure that your study habits are good and you’re paying attention when the teachers or coaches are explaining what’s going on.”
Principal Donald Tobe was thrilled with the assembly, which marks the first time the Wings have visited Greenfield Elementary.
“The children were very excited, the staff was very excited,” Tobe said. “I was very impressed because we’ve had assemblies for the last 30 years, and the organization was fantastic. They came here; they knew exactly what to set up. I think we had a real good feeling going into the assembly before it even started that it was going to be really well run.”
Focusing on healthy lifestyles is nothing new for Greenfield, as they are a “Fuel Up To Play 60” school, which means that they have taken a pledge to work together to impact the overall health and wellness of their students. Earlier this year, they had the Detroit Lions mascot, Roary, visit the school during a healthy luncheon.
“It really fits with some of the things we’re doing with nutrition because that’s kind of an ongoing thing for schools and families to deal with,” Tobe said of the school assembly’s mission. “This was perfect because they got to see a hockey star talking about nutrition and it’s a great role model for the kids.”
In addition to its focus on exercise and healthy living, the assembly also gave the students an opportunity to ask Bertuzzi questions about his career, his teammates and his favorite moments as a hockey player. More than a few students were curious about Bertuzzi’s spin-o-rama shootout goal against Phoenix on Jan. 19.
“Actually a lot of the guys have a tough time doing it,” Bertuzzi said when asked if the move is difficult to execute. “I think I practice it so much in practice, and even when I’m in the backyard with my son and he puts on the goalie equipment, I practice it on him just to see if it works on him and if I can bring it to the ice, so I do a lot of practicing of it.”
For their participation in the program, Greenfield Elementary received the set of hockey equipment that was used during the assembly, a Wings banner for the gymnasium and Wings folders for each student.
Before the assembly ended, Bertuzzi offered some parting advice stemming again from his own parenting experiences.
“Every once in a blue moon a video game is fun to do and all that but I think it’s taking away from the kids going out and being kids like we used to,” he said. “Whether it’s throwing a football or playing soccer, just go outside for an hour, play around outside. You become an adult very quick so enjoy it while you’re a kid.”