Tyler Bertuzzi needed one game to re-establish how crucial he is to the Detroit Red Wings with his grit and goal scoring.
This Saturday, they’ll be without him because he refuses to get vaccinated.
The Wings take a two-game winning streak up against the Calgary Flames on Thursday at Little Caesars Arena, boosted by Bertuzzi’s team-leading five goals..
“He looks like he’s got great energy,” coach Jeff Blashill said Wednesday. “He’s been on pucks. He’s always been kind of a junkyard dog in terms of how he plays, but he looks like he’s skating well, which is great. Over the years, different guys have had major back surgery and sometimes the damage is more significant than others, so you just don’t know. So it’s been great to see him skating well, feeling good and playing good hockey.”
Bertuzzi, 26, left the Jan. 30 game against the Dallas Stars with back pain, and finally had to concede there would be no comeback. He underwent back surgery in April, and didn’t appear in the the preseason until the last two games.
But when the Wings opened the season Oct. 14, Bertuzzi unloaded nearly nine months of frustration and scored four times.
“I’m very happy, it’s a great start for the team,” Bertuzzi said. “We’re building confidence. Being able to score goals after missing a full year almost feels good It feels good to be back out there.”
Bertuzzi scored the winning goal in Tuesday’s 4-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets, which bumped the Wings to 2-0-1. Bertuzzi and Dylan Larkin have played together for years, and the chemistry with rookie Lucas Raymond ignited instantly. Raymond scored his first goal Tuesday and also earned an assist on Larkin’s goal. He plays with a poise beyond his 19 years and has looked confident handling the puck.
“He’s smart, brings a lot of energy,” Bertuzzi said. “He’s a goal scorer. That’s what they do – they get to good spots and find open ice. Me or Dyl or someone will find him and he’ll start scoring a lot. He’s just a good player. He’s fast and very smart.”
The line will have to undergo a change Saturday when the Wings head to Montreal for their first road game of the season. Bertuzzi has refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and, under current border regulations, cannot travel to Canada. He plans to join the team for their Sunday contest in Chicago.
“I’ll be watching and cheering on the guys from home,” Bertuzzi said. “I’ll be back with them on Sunday.”
The NHL and the NHL Players Association agreed there would not be a mandate that players must be vaccinated, but teams can suspend players without pay when they are unable to participate in team hockey activities. The Wings enter Thursday’s game with 13 forwards and 8 defensemen, so they have enough bodies. But there’s no one else on the roster who blends grit and goal scoring like Bertuzzi does. The Wings play in Canada again at the end of the month; they also have a weeklong trip to Western Canada in March. The Wings missed him sorely last season, when he only played nine games.
“Bert is a winning hockey player,” Blashill said. “When he first came to play for me, it was in Grand Rapids in the playoffs. As a guy coming from juniors, he stepped right in. As I remember, actually he was sick the first two games and we went down 0-2, and then went up 3-2 in the series, against Toronto.
“He’s a good player. He’s somebody that I think is the type of player you want on your team and he does a lot of things well. He’s a good defensive player, he goes to the net hard, he wins puck battles and he’s got skill.”
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.