Tyler Bertuzzi’s start to professional hockey began no different than the beginning of his time in the OHL: with energy, determination, and a couple of memorable goal celebrations.
Steph Coratti, GuelphStorm.com
In 2011, Tyler Bertuzzi, the Guelph Storm’s fourth round pick in the Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection, was simply the nephew of former Storm and National Hockey League star, Todd Bertuzzi – literally standing in his uncle’s shadow at a mere five-foot-nine and 155-pounds.
As a 16-year-old, he wasn’t supposed to make the team.
But he did.
With six goals for a total of 17 points through 61 games in his rookie season, Bertuzzi’s wrecking-ball style of play that the Royal City immediately grew to love was the real defining element for the new kid in crimson, illustrated with a total of 117 penalty minutes.
Tyler Bertuzzi as a 16-year-old rookie during the 2011-12 season.
Surely enough, the beloved Sudbury native’s penalty minutes decreased (though, of course, not by much) as points were on the clear rise, eventually concluding the 2014-15 season two points back of the century mark, recording 43 goals and 55 assists fortunately avoiding injury for the first time, filling out a complete 68-game season.
With 201 total games played for the Storm, compiling 71 goals for 172 points, it’s safe to say Tyler isn’t just the nephew of another Storm legend anymore.
Next up would be the American Hockey League, a transition Bertuzzi found himself making following Guelph’s second round elimination in the 2015 OHL Playoffs this past April.
It’s a big jump, from major junior to professional hockey, they often say.
However, as the track record shows, the once 16-year-old wrecking-ball isn’t one to follow typical protocol.
“Everyone knows it’s a big change, going from junior to pro,” Bertuzzi said of the transition. “I just went in open minded and I wanted to go in every night and compete.”
Driving out to Cleveland, Ohio to meet the team and play his first game against the Lake Erie Monsters, Bertuzzi’s introduction to professional hockey with the Grand Rapids Griffins included two milestones, one being his first professional goal.
“I was excited to get the game over with,” Bertuzzi, the 2013-second round selection of the Detroit Red Wings, explained. “I was a little nervous early on, but I just went out and tried to play my kind of hockey and I ended up scoring my first goal that game.”
“I was happy to get that out of the way,” he said of the achievement.
Wearing No. 39 for the Griffins, the now six-foot-one, 190-pound winger would go on to get a lot more than just his first goal out of the way.
Missing the first two games of the postseason due to illness, Bertuzzi returned to the line up to play 14 games in the playoffs, recording seven goals for a total of 12 points.
Clearly the kind of numbers that do nothing but impress, although, the significant impact can be found when noting that of those seven goals, four were game winners for a Griffins team that would go on to reach the Western Conference Finals, only to fall to the Utica Comets.
“I think I’m a playoff hockey player,” Bertuzzi said of his success. “I like to play physical, and play hard. I just brought that to the table every night.”
With an OHL-career total of 27 points in 38 playoff games, including 17 points in 18 games through the 2014 Championship run for the Storm, the label certainly doesn’t fall short.
Yet, the 1995-born forward directed the credit for the smooth transition elsewhere.
“[Jeff Hoggan], our captain, he’s a really good guy and was a big help,” Bertuzzi said. “My line mates [Andy Miele] and [Mark Zengerle] too, I played with them the whole time and they’re really good players. I give it all to them, they helped me get used to the game up there.”
Additionally, looking back to between the pipes, a fellow Storm connection provided a little reminder of the road traveled.
“[Thomas McCollum] is a really good guy, we were pretty good friends up there,” Bertuzzi said of the former Storm netminder. “We had a lot of conversations about Guelph, it was good to have him there.”
Other names from Guelph quickly surfaced, too.
“Mike Kelly was a big help, and the coaches there,” Bertuzzi explained, reflecting on those who helped him get to this point. “A lot of teaching went on there – Bill Stewart, Todd Harvey, four years under Scotty Walker.”
Taking a moment to look back on the complete experience in Guelph, the Storm fan-favourite attested the past four years in their entirety to the now-opportunity of continuing his professional hockey career.
“Everything – it was the best four years of my entire life,” Bertuzzi explained, adding that it’s definitely an emotional transition. “Every guy that I met there, the coaching staff, everything… the city was great, the great fans, great people, great everything.”
With the J.S. Robertson Cup as an Ontario Hockey League Champion in 2014, Bertuzzi celebrated in typical fashion.
Now, with a total of 16 professional hockey games under his belt, Bertuzzi is ready to continue to do what got him here and more, including playing his game for the fans.
“There were pictures of Bert and Ernie with my name,” Bertuzzi said of the quick acceptance from the Griffins faithful. “Just seeing the fans and that they appreciate me playing the way I do, it makes me play a lot better and a lot harder. I like playing for people that enjoy watching me play.”
Storm fans can rest assured, their once 16-year-old wrecking-ball turned adored legend is in good hands.
Now with his eyes focused on the road ahead to a successful professional career, he will always be one of the heart beats in crimson, the guy nobody wanted to play against (but everybody wanted to play with), the goal celebration that never ceased to entertain, and one of the sparks en route to an OHL Championship; Tyler Bertuzzi will always be number 17.