At last: Detroit Red Wings’ Tyler Bertuzzi to appear in exhibition game

Detroit Free Press

Tyler Bertuzzi is one of the Detroit Red Wings’ most important players, and getting him back before the start of the season is important.

Bertuzzi was on the roster for Thursday night’s exhibition lineup, his first appearance since leaving Jan. 30 with a sore back. Bertuzzi tried for months to return to the lineup, but the pain never receded and he wound up undergoing back surgery in April. He was cleared to play in training camp, but didn’t make it onto the roster until the penultimate exhibition game.

“There’s going to be some frustration and a whole bunch of emotions going through my head, but I’m happy to be out there and take it game by game and eventually I’ll be back to where I was,” Bertuzzi said after the morning skate.

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Bertuzzi thrives on playing an abrasive style; he’s at his best buzzing around the opponent’s net and grinding foes into the boards. He already had five goals among seven points when he was lost for the season; that was just in seven games.

“Bert wins stick battles, Bert has the puck in the O-zone, has the puck around the net, is real smart defensively,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He just has to do what he does to get himself back into it.”

Bertuzzi is a top-line player and power play regular, and the Wings need him to thrive all the more after losing Jakub Vrana at least through January to a shoulder injury.

The Wings open the season Oct. 14. The schedule is compact because the NHL is pausing in February for Olympic participation, but Bertuzzi will get a break when the Wings are in Canada, which happens twice in October. Bertuzzi has refused to get vaccinated for COVID-19, and under current border restrictions cannot play in Canada.

Asked if he’s reconsidered, Bertuzzi simply said, “no.”

Players generally need several games to get their timing back after not playing for so long. When Dylan Larkin played for the first time earlier this month after a neck injury suffered in April, he spoke of how he seemed to be going slow while everything around him was at full speed.

Bertuzzi anticipated something similar, saying that, “I’m looking forward to getting bumped and getting my timing back.”

Danny DeKeyser, who underwent back surgery in December 2019 and didn’t play for more than a year because of the pandemic, has been a good sounding board, and the two have bonded as they deal with the aftermath of having had their backs operated on.

“It was pretty much kind of the same surgery,” Bertuzzi said. “We’re always doing the same stretches in the gym. He’s still doing all his things. I know it’s going to be forever I’m doing mobility and all the stretches.”

DeKeyser, who is five years older than Bertuzzi, had a lengthy rehabilitation because he lost strength in his legs. DeKeyser was placed on waivers early last season to make room on the roster, but he ended up playing 47 games, and is poised this season to be a part of the top-four defense corps. The expectation is that it won’t take Bertuzzi as long to regain form.

“(DeKeyer) didn’t have as much to do with rust, but strength and power in his legs,” Blashill said. “He took the time to build that back up and he’s closer where he used to be. Bert hasn’t had nearly the same effect from it.”

Bertuzzi said he’s “just as strong as I’ve ever been. It’s just timing, getting back to the speed of hockey.”

As for the mental aspect of returning to play after such a lengthy layoff and coming off a significant injury, Bertuzzi has been through worse.

“Concussions are worse than anything,” he said. “Knowing that there’s a timetable when you’re going to come back, that’s the biggest thing. It was frustrating, but you can work through it. Concussions, you don’t know what to expect — one day you’ll feel good, one day you won’t. Mentally it was still tough.I was trying to come back last year and my back gave out on me again when I was close to coming back. It was frustrating.”

Contact Helene St. James at 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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