Bert's havin' one hail of a time

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

Darryl Sutter didn't need to hear the roar of the crowd that greeted Todd Bertuzzi Tuesday night to know his prized free-agent signing is being well received.

He knew within a few days of camp opening Bertuzzi would be a hit with the fans.

"His reception here after the first two or three days was incredible," the Flames general manager said yesterday.

"I thought I'd have to fight more of a cause but it's been totally the other way."

Instead, after a summer of debate amongst fans who either loved or hated the idea of Bertuzzi in flaming red, his No. 7 jersey has been flying off the shelves and all the talk is of the slimmed down winger people have quickly come to embrace.

After years of being booed every time he touched the puck at the 'Dome, he was cheered heartily at Tuesday's preseason opener every time he made a hit or appeared on the Jumbotron.

His mere introduction as the starting left-winger garnered a reaction that rivalled the greeting linemate Jarome Iginla received.

"At the end of the day, the real good hockey fan knows good hockey players," said Sutter, who signed Bertuzzi to a one-year deal for $1.95 million.

"He looks good. He's 225 pounds ... he hasn't been sitting on a hill counting his beans. That's what some guys do."

As Bertuzzi was the first to point out after the game, his initial showing was befitting a preseason tilt just four days into camp -- shaky at best.

However, despite the fact Big Bert and Iginla failed to click in any way while playing with 19-year-old Mikael Backlund, Sutter saw enough of the big man's skill set to know he'll be a fine addition with or without Iginla by his side.

"I think they have a lot of work to do," Sutter said when asked about their chemistry.

"It's not something where they have to play together. We're a good enough team that we will find that guy on the top line whether it's Jarome and Todd or just Jarome. Todd is a better left-winger but can play on the right side (as he did in Vancouver), so if he can't play with Jarome, he can certainly play behind Jarome. I don't get too slotted in those things. Hey, in Detroit, everybody thinks (Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk) play together, but they don't. The big thing is complimenting the group, not independent numbers. We've had guys like that, but it didn't get us to the next step."

But, just for kicks as Sutter asked aloud, what would define a "good year" in terms of the 33-year-old's goal totals? Fourteen like he had last year? Forty-six like he had six years back?

"I think he's less than a $2-million player, so 20 goals would be pretty good," shrugged Sutter.

"Hey, they're going to evaluate him all year, and that's the best part of being in Canada. Todd could've run and hid and gone to a lesser team that's not a hockey market and played out his career. He wanted to play in Canada and on a good team so they want to see him accomplish that."

The warm response he received was not lost on the winger.

"It was awesome," beamed Bertuzzi, who was minus-two on the night.

"Like I've said many times before, it's been a joy coming here. I wasn't quite sure what was going to happen or how it was going to be, but at the same time, it's been awesome from my conversations with Darryl to Mr. (Ken) King, Mike (Keenan), Jarome and a handful of the other guys. It's a place you want to play. Everyone who has been here and played here before has enjoyed it.

"You can see by the amount of NHLers who live around here, it's a great area to live in."

That's not to say it will be a completely smooth ride -- most of Bertuzzi's seasons have been anything but.

However, for those wondering if fans would forgive, forget or simply choose to overlook the fact he was once despised around here, it was a pretty good start to what was once seen as the unlikeliest of relationships.


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