Detroit — Tyler Bertuzzi hadn’t had a feeling for a game like this in a long time.
In fact, it was Jan. 30, when Bertuzzi faced the Florida Panthers, and happened to be Bertuzzi’s final game of last season.
Eventually, though attempting to return for months, Bertuzzi had to have season-ending back surgery.
On Thursday, in the Red Wings’ next to last exhibition game against Pittsburgh, Bertuzzi returned to the lineup.
“I’m very excited, a little bit nervous,” Bertuzzi said Thursday on a Zoom call with media. “I haven’t been nervous for a game in a long time. I’m excited to just go out there with the guys and ease my way back into it and having fun playing.”
Bertuzzi skated often and hard during the summer, took part in training camp drills and scrimmages, and was part of the Red & White intrasquad scrimmage, but hadn’t played in a preseason game.
The general soreness around the back kept Bertuzzi and the Wings cautious, and held Bertuzzi out of the linup until Thursday.
“I got a little bit sore over camp after Day 3 or 4,” Bertuzzi said. “I’ve been kind of easing my way back into it, and I didn’t want to rush anything back.”
Not having played in so long, Bertuzzi expects there to be some rust and mental hesitancy until playing again becomes natural.
“I know it’ll take a few games and there will be some frustration and a whole bunch of emotions going through my head,” Bertuzzi said. “I’m just happy to be back and take it day by day and eventually I’ll be back to where I was.”
Bertuzzi talks often with defenseman Danny DeKeyser, who had a similar back surgery. The two have a pregame routine, now, that strengthens and loosens the back.
Being physical is a huge part of Bertuzzi’s playing style, so there will be a transition period to feeling confident consistently hitting opposing players again. But Bertuzzi wasn’t going to go out of his way Thursday to look for contact.
“It’s going to come throughout the game; I’m definitely not going to be going around looking for it,” Bertuzzi said. “It’s hockey. It’ll happen, stuff around the net, and I’m looking forward to it happening, getting bumped and getting my timing back.”
Bertuzzi feels having two preseason games and a week’s worth of practices should put him in good shape heading into the Oct. 14 regular-season opener against Tampa.
“It’s going to have to be,” Bertuzzi said. “It’s going to take a little more than these two games, but these games will be very helpful. Having a week of practices will be good with the team; I know we’ll be battling and working hard and getting ready for Game 1.”
Coach Jeff Blashill had Bertuzzi on a line with Pius Suter (a former junior teammate of Bertuzzi’s) and Lucas Raymond for Thursday’s game against Pittsburgh.
“I expect him to play this game in a serious manner and get himself going,” Blashill said. “Just do what he does to get back into it. He wins stick battles, has the puck in the offensive zone, is hard around the net and real smart defensively.
“Every guy, every injury, is a little bit different. Just like Dylan (Larkin, who returned last week after a neck injury), Dylan didn’t look like Dylan in the first (period); I’m not going to overreact. It’s just the reality of it, and ultimately, we want him (Bertuzzi) ready for Game 1 against Tampa a week from now.”
Capitalizing on a chance
The Wings’ two goal scorers Wednesday in Columbus, forward Riley Barber and defenseman Dan Renouf, aren’t likely to make the Wings’ roster out of camp, but continue to show the front office they warrant consideration for later.
Barber was with Grand Rapids, in the Wings’ organization, last season, while Renouf returned to the Wings in free agency after seeing some NHL time in Colorado last season.
“Both are guys that, I think, believe that they have NHL in them and want more opportunity with us to show that,” Blashill said. “Barbs, he can score goals. Obviously, that’s a commodity and then you’ve got to work at getting those opportunities at the NHL level. Some of it’s ice time, and some of it’s learning how to get open in that situation.
“Danny Renouf did a good job last year in the games he played up in Colorado. He’s with a few guys (in Grand Rapids) that are battling to be the first call-up.”
Raymond was in the lineup for a second consecutive night, as Blashill said he wanted to further evaluate the impressive rookie before this weekend’s cutdown to a final roster.
… Along with Raymond, forward Jonathan Berggren was another intriguing rookie in Thursday’s lineup. Berggren was playing his second game, first at home, since returning from an injury suffered at the prospects tournament in mid-September.