Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Todd Bertuzzi will fan the Flames' fire

“Obviously, I’m well aware I wasn’t the most popular pick in Calgary Flames’ history. But I think you have to give it a little bit of time and give me a chance.”

There has been much controversy over Todd Bertuzzi becoming a Calgary Flame. On the ice, while his stats didn't overwhelm in Anaheim, he should provide a good mix to the team. He has the grit and scoring ability that is synonymous with Western Conference hockey. The chemistry is obviously good between him and the team's captain Jarome Iginla, who went to bat for him to bring him here.

“He was one of the power forwards that I would look to and check their numbers and watch and admired his game,” admits Iginla. “His own fans loved him. As far as winning the fans over, I think that’s going to be something on the ice. I think fans will give him a chance.”

General Manager Darryl Sutter and his staff felt he was a fit because he is a big guy and can still put up numbers. “In the end, the money worked, so that’s probably why it was a good fit. If we thought he was an injury-prone player, we wouldn’t have signed him.”

Bertuzzi admits he never expected to ever wear a red Flames’ jersey at any point of his career, especially after having been a Canuck for eight seasons. He is however excited about coming back to Canada and has a positive relationship with head coach Mike Keenan.

“Mike basically gave me my kick-start in Vancouver. A lot of my success has come from him and how he played me and how he used me. Mike’s a guy who knows how to treat different people at different times and different situations. He pushes you really hard and all that but at the same time, he knows what kind of person they are, how they live, and how they handle different situations.”

All the warm fuzzies aside, off the ice is where most of the controversy hovers.

Much of that obviously has to do with the attack on former Colorado Avalanche Steve Moore, already four years ago, when Bertuzzi played for Vancouver. To refresh, Moore had laced a big-time hit on Canuck star Marcus Naslund that knocked him out in the game on March 8, 2004. The Canucks were incensed and later on in the contest, Bertuzzi jumped on and attached Moore from behind. Moore suffered a concussion and two broken vertebrae, jeopardizing the young player’s ability to ever return to the NHL. Bertuzzi was charged with assault a few months later on June 24. He pled guilty and now faces a civil lawsuit, with Marc Crawford and the Canucks added to list of defendants. In the plea agreement, Bertuzzi was given a conditional discharge with no criminal record, sentenced to one year of probation and 80 hours of community service, and banned from participating in any sporting event where Steve Moore might be involved. He was also suspended for the rest of the season and the 2004 playoffs.

As a result of the incident, the NHLPA seemed to have bailed on Steve Moore right from the start. Players and the PA hierarchy sided with Bertuzzi because Moore only had played 64 games in the NHL. He belonged to the same fraternity, lived in the same trench, but because he was deemed to have fewer games under his belt, he was "making Todd Bertuzzi's life miserable."

Who knows if Moore would have gelled into a first- or second-line player? But because of the hit, he will never lace up a skate in the league ever again. He will be lucky to ever enjoy normal life without doctors and painkillers.

Personally, I do not believe he intended to break Moore's neck, and I can't imagine how horrible it would be to know you were responsible for ending someone else’s career. Bertuzzi has mentally and publicly paid for his mistake many times over. But what he has that Moore does not is the entire hockey fraternity standing behind him. He didn’t have Wayne Gretzky adding him to the lineup of Team Canada for the 2006 World Championships. It's as if Moore's career wasn't as worthy. And that is NOT Todd Bertuzzi's fault. Nor is it his fault that he seems to be the lone guy holding the bag now, when to anyone watching, he was clearly sent onto the ice for revenge on the Naslund hit. Add to the mix, his former coach Marc Crawford, in an attempt to get out of the lawsuit, is recently denying culpability and saying Bertuzzi acted in direct disobedience. It’s taken until now for Crawford to bring this up. And since when is a coach not responsible for his players?

Back to the Calgary Flames, regardless of what Bertuzzi does on the ice, the $38 million lawsuit is expected to go to trial this year. So the question arises: how much of distraction will this be for the team?

There is no doubt Bertuzzi feels comfortable in Calgary. He likes the organization and he likes the people. He thinks he can really contribute, and he’s used to the media spotlight, even after the hiatus in Anaheim, where he could stay off the radar. That’s something his new GM gives him credit for. He could have gone to another team like Anaheim, where NHL media coverage is secondary. But he didn’t. He is also not taking anything for granted.

“I don’t think anything’s a given, especially the top six positions. Even though I consider myself up there, I still have to go out there and earn it. In Anaheim, I thought it was a good opportunity. I just didn’t fit into the mode there with ice time. Playing 10-12 minutes a game; it’s kind of tough to perform, especially trying to play offense.”

One thing is for sure, because of its new acquisition, the Calgary Flames may very well be one of the most watched teams in the NHL this season.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Anaheim Duck star comes back to Calgary to support team

It’s not often something like this happens. In fact, in the Western Hockey League, it may be the first time – where a current NHL player comes back to partner with his junior hockey team to give back to the community.

Anaheim Ducks’ star forward Ryan Getzlaf came to Calgary August 25, 2008 to announce his partnership with the Calgary Hitmen Hockey Club, which by the way, is owned by the Calgary Flames.

The new venture is called Getzlaf’s Gang, and what it does is bring kids to a junior hockey game who may never otherwise get to go. Getzlaf will select the kids himself and each will receive a Getzlaf Gang t-shirt and autographed eight by ten picture of the Ducks’ number 15. Kids Up Front, with the support of Telus, will invite kids from low income families, immigrant families, and also those with mental and physical challenges.

“I never went to a lot of games when I was young,” says Getzlaf. “It’s a way to promote hockey and let kids come to the games to see what it’s about and hopefully inspire some of them to play.”

Getzlaf played with the Hitmen for four seasons from 2001-02 to 2004-05, scoring 215 points in 233 regular season games.

“This is an organization and community that helped me so much. When I have all that I have, it’s a way to give back. I wouldn’t be here today without this city or this team.”

He also states that junior hockey doesn’t get as much recognition as it deserves and could use the help. The Hitmen already notice the increase in interest in the team as a result.

“You can do all the donating and stuff you want,” adds Getzlaf, “but until you get on that personal level where the kids maybe get to meet you, that’s where the kids really benefit from it.”

Given all the accolades and hype that media and hockey insiders are giving this young star, one might ask, is the Getzlaf Gang also a way to keep himself grounded? “You could say that. It’s definitely a way to kind of relate back to what things used to be like and how hard it is to get to where I am. There were a lot of people along the way that pushed me along and helped me, whether I thought so at the time or not.

“(On the hype) I don’t listen. Hockey’s a funny sport because when you’re on top, everyone’s on top with you. And I’ve gone through the tough times, too, where people are down on you for certain things. My main focus is to play hockey for the Anaheim Ducks and try and win another championship.”

After already experiencing a Stanley Cup under his belt, the summer was much longer than he would have liked, but Getzlaf has high hopes for the upcoming season. “We’re going into a pretty good year and have a great group of guys. We filled a few holes that we were missing last year.”

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