Tyler Bertuzzi is growing back his hair and, to the Detroit Red Wings‘ relief, getting back in the game.
The team’s grittiest forward has been unavailable since the second day of training camp because of a flare-up, but he was part of Monday morning’s game-day group at Little Caesars Arena, signaling his inclusion the Wings’ fifth exhibition game.
“Just to get one or two in, get the feel back, is big heading into the season,” Bertuzzi said. “We’ve had a long summer and practices doesn’t really do justice games. That’s the biggest thing for me, is get the feel back and touches in.”
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The Wings don’t have anyone else quite like Bertuzzi, who seems to have a magnetic ability to be around the opposing goaltender. New head coach Derek Lalonde noted that of Bertuzzi’s 30 goals last season, four of them came in the opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“His finish around the net is really special,” Lalonde said. “If you recall, our first game last year, when I was coaching with Tampa, he had four. He could have (had) six. He had a couple juicy ones in the slot, too. He sniffs the net, he’s around the net, he’ll go to that hard area. But I think along with some other guys, there were some detail in his game, too — he was in a role last year where I think he had to create offense. So there’s a little lean and poach and, I wouldn’t go so far as to say cheat, in his game, but I think like everyone else, he has to reel it in a little, too.”
Bertuzzi was earmarked to make his first exhibition game on a line with Dylan Larkin and Lucas Raymond; the three enjoyed success last season, though Lalonde cautioned it doesn’t mean they’ll be a line opening night.
“I think there’s a comfort level, for sure,” Lalonde said. “It could be a line that has success, it could be a look. But you’ve seen in camp, we’ve had all different kind of looks.”
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The Wings finish exhibition season Saturday, then have nearly a week before the Oct. 14 opener. Bertuzzi was a spectator for the first four preseason games, and said he noticed, “a different vibe. It looks like everyone is more on the same page and we’re buying in as a group. I’m looking forward to contributing to that and getting the systems down and everything.”
Bertuzzi didn’t reveal what it was that flared up after the first practice of training camp, but he underwent back surgery in April 2021, after playing just nine games that pandemic-shortened season. He appeared in 68 games last season, missing nine because he decision not to get the COVID vaccine meant he was subject to border restrictions entering Canada. Bertuzzi said “it’s awesome” that those have been dropped, clearing him to play in Canada again.
The big hurdle now is a new contract. Bertuzzi, 27, is entering the last year of a two-year, $9.5 million deal and approaching unrestricted free agency. General manager Steve Yzerman is expected to get Bertuzzi re-signed before the trade deadline, or trade him.
“I haven’t talked to [my agent] about it,” Bertuzzi said. “He’s coming in to watch the game next Friday, so I’ll talk to him then.”
For now, he’s concentrating on ready for the regular season — and getting his look back. Bertuzzi cut his hair and donated it to Locks of Love at the end of last season.
“It was for a good cause and I’m just waiting for it to grow back,” he said.
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 latest book, On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.