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Big year on the horizon for young Bertuzzi

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
Tyler Bertuzzi, who is participating in his fourth development camp in Traverse City, has produced 14 goals and six assists in 23 playoff games over the past two years with the Griffins. (Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings)

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – When the pressure was on, Tyler Bertuzzi rose to the occasion. Now he's hoping to continue the ascent.

In nine playoff games with the Grand Rapids Griffins last season, Bertuzzi led the team with seven goals and his eight points were third behind Anthony Mantha's 11 and Ryan Sproul's nine.

"Some guys joke around with me that you shouldn't even play the season, you should just come play in the playoffs," Bertuzzi said. "For me, I love playoffs. It's a gritty game in the playoffs. It's a lot harder, it goes up a lot in the playoffs. Teams get better, a lot of guys get called down, it's a lot faster, it's bigger. Everything for me, I just feel like I need to step up my game, whether it's luck, I just like to work hard and working hard, that type of game, I think it helps me."

Griffins coach Todd Nelson said playoff hockey seems to fit the way Bertuzzi plays.

"It certainly has held true the past two years," Nelson said. "He had a good playoff for us two years ago, he had a good playoff this past season. The style of play that he plays, I think playoff hockey really suits him. Just like I said, try to have him play that hockey consistently if he does come to Grand Rapids. That’s what’s going to get him to the National Hockey League."

Bertuzzi had seven goals and five assists in 14 playoff games in the 2015 Calder Cup playoffs.

Last season was Bertuzzi's first full season in professional hockey. He had 12 goals and 18 assists in 71 regular-season games.

"For me, I had a great year," Bertuzzi said. "We had a great group of guys, the new coaches came in and we had a tough start, I thought, but we knew we had the group to make it as far as we did and maybe even farther. But we had a great, great year. It was a lot of learning and developing for me for my first pro year. I had a lot of fun, it was good for me."

Now 21, Bertuzzi is appearing in his fourth development camp but still appreciates the experience he's getting.

Bertuzzi was the Wings' second of two second-round picks in the 2013 NHL draft, chosen 58th overall.

The young forward says his game has evolved since then.

"My first year, I fought a lot, hit everything I could," Bertuzzi said. "I wasn't that good with the puck, couldn't even stickhandle, I don't think. Just great coaches in Guelph that helped me develop a lot. Just growing as a person, growing, gaining weight, just maturing. For me, I think I can score now, I can agitate, I can work hard, I can do as much as I can and I think my game's evolved to more agitating, play the body, score goals when I can but just be good defensively, play hard on the walls and just work hard."

Bertuzzi watched last season as teammates Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou got called up to Detroit.

"It was great for them," Bertuzzi said. "They're close buddies of mine and to watch them have an opportunity and be successful, it was pretty cool. They're always humble. I was happy for them."

Nelson isn't ruling out Bertuzzi getting his own shot this coming season.

"I think this is a big year for him," Nelson said. "I think he’s going to have a great year for us, if not Detroit. There’s a great opportunity. But if he does fall down to us in Grand Rapids, we’re going to continue working on his game. Last year, he got off to a bit of a slow start but he elevated his game throughout the course of the season and had a great playoffs for us. So we’re trying to get him to follow up that playoff play that he had and be consistent throughout the whole season."

As for Bertuzzi, he's not looking too far ahead.

"I just take it day by day, whether I'm in Grand Rapids or I'm in Detroit, wherever I am, just work hard, play for the team that I'm playing for and just move forward," Bertuzzi said.

CAMPERS GET COOKING: If you want a delicious, nutritious meal, then you would draft Givani Smith, Adam Marsh, Mike McKee, Chase Perry and Dominic Turgeon.

The players at development camp attended a nutrition and cooking seminar and then were split into teams to make meals.

Some of the trainers helped judge the competition and Lisa McDowell, the team dietician, assessed the nutritional value of the dishes.

"It was definitely something new," Smith said. "It was a little chaotic in the kitchen, everyone was running around, looking for recipes and whatnot. It was a fun experience."

Smith, the second youngest of six children, said he does do some cooking back home.

"I think I was a little boss in the kitchen there besides our chef Amanda," Smith said, grinning.

So what was the winning entree?

"We made two entrees just in case the other one wasn't up to par," Smith said. "So we made spicy salmon with chipotle and red crushed pepper on it with rice and avocado. We made that and also stir fry with chicken and some vegetables -- green peppers, red peppers, some spinach, and topped it off with some good sauce on it, special sauce, can't say what it is. That was the trick."

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