If you were seeking an apt symbol for Tyler Bertuzzi’s game, look no further than the mess that adorns his head and cascades down beyond the back of his helmet. Bertuzzi’s mullet conjures memories of Billy Ray Cyrus, but it also has an element of MC Hammer: you can’t touch this.
Well, to be honest, most wouldn’t want to run their fingers through the locks of the Detroit Red Wings left winger. Just like most NHL defensemen would rather not get caught in the corner between Bertuzzi and the puck. “That’s the type of player he is: greasy,” said Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard. “He’s out there, he’s got the hair flying around, cleaning the ice sometimes, but he’s a hard worker.”
Late last season, Bertuzzi worked his way up to a spot on Detroit’s top line with center Dylan Larkin and right winger Anthony Mantha, both top-20 draft picks. Since Bertuzzi was picked 58th overall, some might suggest this union was like sending a stray dog into competition alongside two purebreds at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. But that would be a mistake. “If you don’t know him well, you underestimate him for sure,” said Wings coach Jeff Blashill. “He’s not the prettiest player ever, but he’s got great hockey sense offensively and defensively. He’s got a great stick to create turnovers. He goes to the net. He’s very good around the net. But he also has the skill level to be able to play with that level of player. I think those guys are extremely important on any line. He’s extremely important on that line.”
Bertuzzi, who will turn 25 in February, is accustomed to being an afterthought and having his skill set questioned by hockey people. When the Wings used that second-round pick in 2013 to call the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Bertuzzi’s name, some scoffed. Others just shook their heads. “At the end of the day, all that matters is how good the player is,” Blashill said. “I know we’ve got a real good player in Tyler Bertuzzi. A lot of people thought we went off the board, but it looks like a heck of a pick now, so I’m not concerned about that at all.”
Two years earlier, similar snickering was heard when the Guelph Storm tabbed Bertuzzi in the fourth round of the OHL draft. “We did not really anticipate that he’d make our hockey club, being a fourth-round pick,” said Mike Kelly, Guelph’s GM at the time. “He really gave us no choice.”
Bertuzzi has skated in the path of his famous uncle Todd Bertuzzi, first in Guelph and now in Detroit. Todd played 1,159 NHL games, including a pair of stints with the Red Wings.
Carrying the combination of notoriety and fame that comes from wearing the Bertuzzi name on his back is not something that often concerns Tyler. “I mean, a little bit, but I don’t look at that,” he said. “I just go and play for myself and my teammates.”
All the way up the ladder, Todd has mentored Tyler on the expectations and pitfalls that come from a life in hockey. “I remember when I was young, I would go and see him in Vancouver all the time,” Tyler said. “He was a big deal back then. Just being able to grow up and having him behind me and telling me what it’s like to go through it all is a big help.”
Tyler is a simple fellow who plays a simple game: go to the net, create traffic and, hopefully, bang home some dirty goals. That’s his blueprint for success and one he strives to encourage his linemates to embrace. “It’s just about close support,” Bertuzzi said. “We’ve got to be supportive of each other, whether it’s a little chip and forechecking or just being all over the ice, hounding the puck. Start keeping it simple, and that’s when the plays can be made.”
Last season was a breakout year for Bertuzzi. He finished with career-high 21 goals and 47 points. Amazingly, he also set a franchise record by recording at least three points in four consecutive games. No other Wing – not Gordie Howe, Sid Abel, Ted Lindsay, Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov or Pavel Datsyuk – ever did that. Only Bertuzzi can claim the feat. “It was awesome for me and my family,” Bertuzzi said. “I thank my linemates and teammates. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have been able to do that. When you’re winning, your individual stats will go high.”
Bertuzzi was on pace for 31 goals and 69 points through the first third of the season. “Tyler Bertuzzi is a gritty, little junkyard-dog type player with excellent hockey sense,” said Yzerman, now the Wings’ GM.
A junkyard dog whose hair-raising, point-producing ventures continue to classify this mutt as best in show.