Big Bert expecting 'boos'

WES GILBERTSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:55 AM ET

Whatever the welcome, it won't be anything Todd Bertuzzi hasn't heard before.

He's familiar with being cast as the hero and the villian. And the truth is, the burly winger isn't sure which to expect when he makes his return to the Saddledome ice tonight in a Detroit Red Wings jersey.

"Probably like any other Canadian city -- I'll probably get booed," Bertuzzi shrugged. "I hope they don't, but it's out of my control, and it really doesn't matter any more.

"I had a wonderful time here -- people treated me outstanding, and I've got nothing but respect for this city. Whatever happens, happens."

During his days as a key contributor for the Vancouver Canucks, few players heard the cat-calls in Calgary as often as Big Bert. There were more jeers when he visited as a member of the Red Wings, the Florida Panthers and the Anaheim Ducks, but the mood changed when the controversial forward signed a one-year, US$1.95-million pact with the Flames in July 2008.

He enjoyed his fair share of fan salutes during a 15-goal, 44-point campaign that featured four game-winners and a handful of nifty shootout markers.

The 34-year-old actually wanted to stick around the Saddledome for another winter, but he eventually signed on for a second stint with the Wings when Flames brass showed little interest. Still, Bertuzzi insists there's no hard feelings.

"It's part of the sport -- it's the way it is, and I've seen enough of it already to know that it happens all the time," Bertuzzi said. "Obviously, I had a very good time here and I loved the city and the players that I played with. But for me, it's just another game where we need two points."

Bertuzzi will likely get lots of opportunities tonight to make his old team regret letting him walk away.

Since Valtteri Filppula suffered a broken wrist in Thursday's shootout loss to the Oilers in Edmonton, Bertuzzi joined crafty centre Pavel Datsyuk and feisty Tomas Holmstrom on the Wings' top line, scoring once as his squad erased a four-goal deficit.

All indications are he'll be skating with the same stars when the Flames and the Wings face off tonight on Hockey Night in Canada.

And few in the Flames' locker-room need to be reminded how dangerous Bertuzzi can be with the puck on his stick.

"You just know he's gonna try his moves. You've got to be ready," said veteran centre Craig Conroy "He likes to try to get breakaways, so you've got to know where he is all the time on the ice. Sometimes, he's not on his wing. You've got to know. Especially down low, he's got those quick little moves. Just keep an eye on him and try to keep him to the outside."

Scoring has never been the issue. The biggest knock on Big Bert has long been his shortcomings in the defensive zone, but Wings coach Mike Babcock insists that's not a problem this season.

His numbers -- Bertuzzi's minus-7 rating is the worst on the team -- tell a different story.

"He's made a conscious effort to be very good defensively -- stop, take care of the puck, do all those things -- and we need him to do that, especially with the guys that aren't available to us," Babcock said. "He's become an important player for us."

WES.GILBERTSON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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