DETROIT -- After Tyler Bertuzzi earned a career-high with 48 points in 2019-20 and represented the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL All-Star Game, the excitement was sky-high for the forward coming into the 2020-21 campaign.
But in the midst of a torrid start to the campaign, in which he earned seven points in his first nine games, Bertuzzi took a seemingly harmless fall against the Dallas Stars on January 28, and the winger's excitement came to screeching halt.
"You wouldn't have thought anything of it," Bertuzzi said during his season-ending press conference on May 20. "There was a guy coming off the wall and I hit him and just bounced off him and fell on my side. It was just a weird, awkward play."
Video: Tyler Bertuzzi | End of Season Media Availability
Bertuzzi remained in the game and even played two days later, scoring a goal against the Florida Panthers on January 30, but something wasn't right, and the winger left the game after the second period.
"I just felt it right away," Bertuzzi said. "My back just shifted and it was just weird. And then I tried to play the next game against Florida, I played two periods and that was kind of it for me. I couldn't move."
That game in late January turned out to be Bertuzzi's last of the season as he was placed on the injured list and suffered setback after setback during his attempted rehab.
"I was trying to come back and I was so close a few times. It was frustrating," Bertuzzi said about his recovery process. "I was doing everything I could to get back. I had a few shots in my back that helped for a couple weeks, and then it would sort of come back.
"I was making real good progress and I was almost about to practice and I had a little bit of a setback, and that's when we went to see the specialist in New York and get another opinion."
Video: FLA@DET: Bertuzzi cleans up loose puck in front
That second opinion came from Dr. Frank Cammisa, who also performed back surgery on Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser in December 2019. Cammisa advised Bertuzzi that surgery was the best option, so Bertuzzi underwent surgery on April 30.
"You never want surgery, but I thought I was honestly going to be a little bit more immobile after," Bertuzzi said less than three weeks after his operation. "I'm feeling really good right now so I'm happy I ended up doing it."
And while Bertuzzi is thankful he got surgery, he admitted that missing 47 of his team's 56 games this season took a toll on him.
"Obviously sitting at home watching (the team) play on the road and not getting to hang out with the guys and be around the rink (was hard)," Bertuzzi said. "Honestly, it was a really tough year and I'm looking to just put it past me and get ready for next year."
Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill agreed it was difficult navigating this season without one of the club's grittiest players, but said Bertuzzi and the Wings are trying to find positives from the situation.
"It's a great reminder for all of us how special every day is, how special every game is," Blashill said. "It's been unfortunate for Bert. I think the focus right now for Bert is getting himself so he's healthy at the start of next season. I know he'll work hard with our medical staff to try to get himself in that position."
Bertuzzi hopes to begin working out at Little Caesars Arena soon, and despite not seeing his family in more than a year because of COVID-19 restrictions in Canada, Bertuzzi will remain in Detroit throughout the offseason, working tirelessly to return to the form that made him the Red Wings' second-highest scorer in 2019-20.
"Yeah, of course," he said about maintaining his abrasive net-front presence next season. "That's the reason we went with surgery because it's going to fix it, and I'm going to be back in front of the net next season."
Video: CBJ@DET: Bertuzzi nets OT winner on redirection
Red Wings executive vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman said Bertuzzi is being extremely patient with his recovery process, but confirmed the winger is expected to be on the ice for training camp.
"It's just a slow process initially after surgery and gradually ramp things up," Yzerman said in May. "Tyler, as you know, is pretty quiet. He doesn't say a lot, he is very upbeat and positive. We expect him to be full steam ahead in September."
The 26-year-old will begin his sixth NHL campaign in 2021-22 and hopes to add to the progress he saw his teammates build last season.
"I saw progress. I know there's progress," Bertuzzi said. "I think the last quarter of the season, you could see we were playing hard, playing good. We're going to bring it into next season, just trying to be positive and moving forward."
And while Bertuzzi will heed Yzerman's advice about taking his recovery day by day, he said he's champing at the bit to get back on the ice with his teammates to get ready for the 2021-22 campaign.
"I'm feeling really good right now," Bertuzzi said. "I know it's early but I'm looking forward to next season for training camp and for the summer ahead. I'm really confident. I'm feeling good."