By Tony Saxon – Guelph Mercury He landed in Guelph with little more than a hockey dream and a familiar name. By the time the season was over he had earned the respect of coaches, teammates, opposing players and the fans.
Tyler Bertuzzi was a long shot to even make the Guelph Storm last September. A fourth-round draft pick from Sudbury listed at 5-foot-9 and 150 pounds, he had good numbers in minor midget but was seen more as a long-term project.
But hockey isn’t played on paper. By the time he had bashed and crashed his way through training camp, Bertuzzi was rewarded with a spot on the roster.
“He made it hard for us to cut him,” coach Scott Walker would say. “He works hard, hits everything and made us notice him.”
By the time the season was over he was one of the teams most reliable players and was voted fan favourite at the team’s year-end banquet.
The love affair is mutual.
“When I have a big hit or get in a fight and the crowd goes nuts it gets me pumped,” said the nephew of former Storm great and NHLer Todd Bertuzzi. “I definitely like getting the crowd going.”
As the year went on, he showed fans he was more than a fighter.
“Throughout the year I started playing better, and it got my confidence up when I got that role to be a grinder and a third-line guy that you can use on the penalty kill and grind the puck down low.”
It wasn’t his six goals or 11 assists that made him fan favourite. It was the 117 penalty minutes and willingness to drop the gloves, often against opponents bigger, older and stronger.
But as his all-round game improved and he gained more confidence, Bertuzzi found himself fighting less. After dropping the gloves 11 times in the first half of the season, he fought just four times in the second half.
“I got more confidence as the season went on and got more relaxed and poised with the puck,” he said of how he progressed as a player.
“I wasn’t dumping it in all the time, I was playing three-on-twos and the two-on-ones. I was definitely a better all-round player by the end of the year.”
Bertuzzi said Storm general manager Mike Kelly spoke to him after Bertuzzi suffered a slight concussion mid-season and told him to tone the fighting down because of the injury.
“Mike told me to slow down on the fighting so I listened and I got to show my skill out there a bit more,” Bertuzzi said.
He said he fought so much early on to show he belonged, but by the end of the year was showing everyone he was more than a scrapper.