By Adam Brady
For most of the Anaheim Ducks, tonight’s game in Vancouver marks their first regular season game at GM Place since last year’s five-game triumph over the Canucks in the Western Conference Semifinals. But for Ducks forward Todd Bertuzzi, it’s a different kind of return.
It has been 17 months since Bertuzzi last played in Vancouver, a place he spent eight seasons that were notable for both success and controversy. Bertuzzi became an All-Star after being traded from the New York Islanders to the Canucks in 1998, and helped develop Vancouver into a perennial playoff contender. It’s also the place where in 2004, Bertuzzi made a hit on Colorado’s Steve Moore that has left Moore out of the NHL since.
Bertuzzi is confident that the Vancouver fans will remember him mostly for the good times. “Obviously, it’s going to be different, going in there again,” Bertuzzi said just before leaving for Vancouver on Monday. “That’s basically where my career started. I was fortunate enough to get a good opportunity to play there and to do pretty well, I think. Coming in there, our team wasn’t very good at the time, and we weren’t selling out. Obviously, it was nice to be part of bringing that city to where it should be and the way it is today.”
Bertuzzi was traded by the Canucks to Florida following the 2005-06 season, a blockbuster deal that brought standout goaltender Roberto Luongo to Vancouver. Bertuzzi suffered from a serious back injury last season and played only seven games with the Panthers, who traded him to Detroit late in the season. When the Panthers and Red Wings played in Vancouver last season, Bertuzzi wasn’t physically able to suit up. He also did not join the Ducks on their trip to Vancouver during the preseason.
A two-time NHL All-Star and a First-Team NHL All-Star in 2003, Bertuzzi played in 518 games with the Canucks between 1997-98 to 2005-06 amassing 449 points (188-261-449) and 822 penalty minutes.
Anaheim signed him to a two-year contract last summer, but he missed 14 games with a concussion suffered Oct. 14 vs. Minnesota. His return to Vancouver marks just his fourth game back since the injury, and he has had three assists in his last two.
“He’s getting more comfortable,” said Ducks coach Randy Carlyle just before the team left for Vancouver. “Our expectations are going to go up. He has to find where he fits. He’s accustomed to playing a different way than what we play. That’s a learning curve that he’ll have to experience.”
Carlyle said he expects Bertuzzi will be, “a bit nervous, I’m sure. Your first time back after you’ve been traded is a different feeling. But once he gets into the hockey game, all that will change and it will be back to business as usual.”
Bertuzzi, who admitted he’s not sure what the response from the fans will be tonight, has no doubts about his feelings for Vancouver.
“It’s a place that I love,” Bertuzzi said. “It’s where my kids were born and I have a lot of really good hockey memories. A lot of good things happened there. I think in any city, it’s always 90 percent who like you, 5 percent who really don’t know much about you, and then 5 percent who just can’t stand you. I’m hoping that (last) 5 percent is not there.”