Detroit Red Wings: Motown Redemption: Todd Bertuzzi Makes Most of Second Chance
The most important thing to remember about second chances is they only come around once.
For the life of me, I can't recall who in my youth imparted that profound aphorism to me, but given my wayward days that doubled as four years in high school, any number of teachers, principals or guidance counselors could be responsible.
I'm sure this advice-slash-warning came after one of my many infractions were uncovered and some good-hearted disciplinarian decided to overlook my forging attendance sheets, ditching class to drink beer or telling my Spanish teacher to "kiss my ass" in front of 30 classmates, so long as I "appreciated the second chance I was being given."
Yeah, that one came up a lot too.
I did some bad and stupid things in high school, but at least they weren't done in front of millions of judgmental eyes across the globe.
The same cannot be said for what Todd Bertuzzi did on March 8, 2004.
If you're new to NHL hockey (that is, if you just discovered it six minutes ago), have only recently purchased a television or computer or were living on the planet Mars in 2004, go ahead and Google "Steve Moore incident" and get yourself up to speed.
Otherwise, I assume you're aware of what I'm talking about here.
Bertuzzi—at the time a Vancouver Canuck and considered to be perhaps the very best power-forward in the game and a bona fide hockey hero—decided to exact retribution on a player who may have deserved some kind of payback for a previous infraction, but not at all what he actually got.
What Bertuzzi did was stupid. It was gutless, and it was shameful.
Bertuzzi himself would not deny these assertions.
However, as large a mistake as it was, the fact that nearly six years later some fans still consider him a monster, worthy of derision and spite seems to be a punishment that has long outrun the crime.
Perhaps it's because as a hockey player I too have lost my mind and done something foolish on the ice, but when Bertuzzi apologized publicly for his actions, I believed he was sincere; I believed he was as sorry as he looked.
However, even if he was honestly regretful, the relentless bad press and controversy that surrounded him in the wake of his actions meant that his time in Vancouver was clearly counting down.
The Nucks shipped Bertuzzi off to Florida in 2007 in the blockbuster Roberto Luongo deal, and his time there was cut short by a debilitating back injury.
That spring saw Bertuzzi make his first appearance in Detroit, as he was acquired by the team at the trade deadline.
As Bertuzzi was still recovering from back surgery, his time in Motown was short and forgettable.
He expressed a desire to remain with the club after the season, but cap constraints and an $8 million deal offered by his former GM in Vancouver, Brian Burke, now in Anaheim, saw Bertuzzi go to the recently crowned Stanley Cup Champion Ducks for the 2007-08 season.
The move alone given the Vancouver connection between GM and player stirred up talk about the Steve Moore incident all over again.
Try as he might, Bertuzzi was unable to put the whole situation firmly behind him.
The following season didn't help matters.
As he was bought out of his Anaheim contract over the summer, he signed on for a one-year stint with the Flames in the summer of 2008.
There he was, four seasons later right back in Western Canada facing questions about how tough it was to come back to the area after the Steve Moore incident.
The press, ever fans of controversy, just couldn't let the matter rest and made sure that "Steve Moore" and "Todd Bertuzzi" remained two names tightly linked together.
Bertuzzi's time in Calgary was otherwise uneventful, and he found himself without a contract weeks after free agency began in the summer of 2009.
Considered by many to be too beat up, too emotionally scarred and too past his prime to be effective in the "new NHL", had Bertuzzi simply slipped into obscurity as a once-great, now-disgraced hockey hero, it's likely no one in the hockey press would have given the event much ink.
It was on Aug. 18, 2009 that Bertuzzi's career turned a corner.
He signed on with the Detroit Red Wings for one year, hoping to finally put his past behind him and get back to simply playing hockey, without the specter of past mistakes shadowing him while doing so.
Bertuzzi was a veteran at that point, 34 years old and still looking for his first Stanley Cup.
While few people on Earth would consider Detroit, Michigan an excellent place to re-ignite their career, that's what Bertuzzi was hoping the Motor City would turn out to be.
At least for Bertuzzi, it was a safe bet.
For perhaps for the first time in his NHL career, he would be treated as a man, not just a player and certainly not a violent criminal.
The Red Wings respect their players as men and expect them to behave accordingly.
In Detroit, they don't care who you are or where you've been. If you're on the team, you work your tail off, shut your mouth and do what is asked of you to the best of your ability, or you're off the team.
You don't whine about more ice-time. You don't pout when you're demoted to the third-line, and you don't cry about having to change you're game to benefit the team.
You just play and play hard.
That's what Todd Bertuzzi did last season.
Though he was long past his prime, Bertuzzi still contributed offensively, earning 44 points in 82 games in 2009-10.
He also dedicated himself to playing well on the defensive side of the ice, something long considered a weakness in the 6' 3", 230-pound forward's game.
Bertuzzi's efforts earned him a raise and a two-year contract extension in Detroit last summer.
What's more, it earned him, his wife and two children to plant some roots after three years of drifting around various NHL cities.
It also gave him stability and the chance not only to play for a potential champion, but re-establish himself as talented and valuable hockey player.
Looking at Bertuzzi in Detroit this season on pace for 70 points and leading the team in plus/minus with a plus-11 rating, one can scarcely remember that night in March of 2004 when he made a stupid and dangerous decision that ended up haunting him and his family for years afterwards.
No, Bertuzzi looks happy, resolved and ready to win the first Stanley Cup of his career. Not a bad position to be in for a once disgraced hero written off as a has-been just two years ago.
Second chances only come around once.
Todd Bertuzzi is proving he understands this better than most.
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