Why Detroit Red Wings’ Tyler Bertuzzi won’t let surgery soften his grit when he returns

Detroit Free Press

Tyler Bertuzzi is confident he’ll be back in front of opponents’ nets come fall,  which is great news for the Detroit Red Wings.

The winger who combines grit and goal scoring in equal measure was lost to a back injury two weeks into the 2020-21 season, leaving the Wings’ offense shorthanded for most of the season. Bertuzzi tried to make a comeback — he’d get to Little Caesars Arena early and skate on his own on the practice sheet, at times resorting to making snow angels on the ice to negate the shooting pain.

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“I was doing everything I could to get back,” Bertuzzi said Thursday. “I had a few shots in my back and that helped for a couple weeks, and then it would come back. Then I was making really good progress and I was almost able to practice, and I had a little setback. That’s when we went to see the specialist in New York to have a second opinion, and I ended up in surgery.”

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His surgery was April 30. His date for full-out training is, he said, “up in the air, but I’m feeling really good. Probably in the next two to three weeks I can start getting back into the gym.”

Like teammate Dylan Larkin, who is recovering from an injury that required he wear a neck brace for nearly a month, Bertuzzi won’t be golfing any time soon. But Bertuzzi is determined that undergoing a major operation won’t cause him to abandon the in-your-face style that makes him such a valuable commodity on the Wings.

“I’m going to be back in front of the net next season,” he said.

Bertuzzi, 26, is a restricted free agent, signedto a one-year deal last fall after Bertuzzi filed for arbitration. Playing only nine games in a contract year isn’t ideal, but Bertuzzi has established his value: He delivered 21-goal seasons in 2018-19 and 2019-20, showing a knack for scoring while around the net. He had five goals — three of them on the power play — and two assists when he was hurt Jan. 28 on a mundane-looking play in Dallas.

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“There was a guy coming off the wall, I hit him and bounced off him and fell,” Bertuzzi said. “You would never have guessed that would have ended it. I felt it right away, my back, it shifted. I tried to play the next game and played two periods. I couldn’t move.”

Months of frustration followed. Just as it seemed he’d made progress, pain flared.

“It was frustrating to watch the guys go out every night and not be able to be there and try everything you can to get back,” Bertuzzi said. “I was trying to come back and I was so close a few times.

“Sitting at home watching them play on the road, not getting to hang out with the guys at much or be around the rink, it was a really tough year.”

Bertuzzi traveled with the Wings when they went to Florida for a week in late March/early April, but by then he wondered if it even made sense.

“With a month left, whether I was feeling really good or not, I was in the back of my head thinking, ‘would it even be smart to come back now,’ ” Bertuzzi said.

When it finally became clear the back wasn’t going to heal on its own, that he needed surgery, Bertuzzi sought out teammate Danny DeKeyser, who underwent back surgery in December 2019.

“He had the same surgery as me with the same guy, so I talked to him a bit,” Bertuzzi said. “He told me about what to expect. I was nervous going in, you never want surgery, but honestly I thought I’d be a little more immobile after and I’m feeling good. I’m happy I ended up doing it.”

Bertuzzi hasn’t seen his immediate family all season because of travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada. He plans to spent most, if not all, of the offseason in the Detroit area, partly because LCA has a pool with a treadmill that is helping Bertuzzi in his recovery.

“The season was tough and frustrating for me, but I’m feeling really good,” he said. “I’m looking forward to next season and training camp and the summer ahead.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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