Canucks choose plan B

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:51 AM ET

A return to hockey that's been described as both long-awaited and ridiculously premature, depending on one's definition of justice and capacity for forgiveness, will have to wait another day.

With Vancouver playing its pre-season opener in Edmonton yesterday, it was conceivable that Todd Bertuzzi's first officially sanctioned game against an NHL opponent since his attack on Steve Moore two years ago would be here.

But rather than turn a routine Wednesday night pre-season game into an international news story, the Vancouver Canucks sent their B team to Edmonton instead.

No Anson Carter. No Trevor Linden. No Markus Naslund. No Brendan Morrison. No Dan Cloutier. No Mattias Ohlund.

And no Todd Bertuzzi.

YEAR-LONG CIRCUS

As it should, Bertuzzi's unveiling will come on home ice, either tomorrow night against San Jose or Saturday against Brian Burke's Anaheim Ducks. And when it does, it'll mark the beginning of a year-long circus that is sure to test every measure of Vancouver's patience and focus.

"We're all hopeful that once we get playing we'll get through it," said Canucks' GM Dave Nonis, who left Bertuzzi back home. "And we can worry about hockey and nothing else."

That doesn't seem likely, at least not until the team makes its way through the league once and each city gets a crack at revisiting one of the darkest moments in league history. Naslund lead the league in scoring? That's nice, what about Bertuzzi? Canucks in first? That's nice, what about Bertuzzi? Marc Crawford finds a cure for the common cold? That's nice, what about Bertuzzi?

Teammate and close friend Ed Jovanovski is already tired of it and it hasn't even started yet.

"I think enough's enough," said Jovanovski. "Everybody understands both sides of the situation. Todd has kind of been through a lot, and he's very remorseful over the whole incident. And as for Moore, you have to wish him the best and hope he recovers."

It's going to be a long time before "the situation" is wrapped up that tidily. At every new stop, Bertuzzi will be challenged to demonstrate his remorse on cue and his teammates will be challenged to defend the indefensible.

And on the ice, no one knows what's in store for 44, but chances are it won't be good.

"I don't think it'll affect Todd," said Nonis, who's hoping his power forward can play with blinders on. "There's a lot of buildings he wasn't very well liked in to begin with so I don't think it's going to have that big of an effect on him. Todd is ready to play. I think preparation is big for him, he hasn't worked as hard off the ice as he has this season, he's prepared to play. He's in the best shape he's ever been in."

By all accounts, Bertuzzi is bent on changing the way he is viewed and will be remembered in the hockey world. That won't be easy for someone who was already unpopular before the suspension and became universally vilified after it. "According to everybody else he has a lot to prove," said Jovanovski. "And there has been a lot on his mind but he's focused on hockey. He's going to be OK."

SELF-INFLICTED DISTRACTION

The Canucks are counting on it. If Bertuzzi can shut out all of his self-inflicted distraction and rediscover the top of his game, Vancouver will be a power in the west.

"You're not going to have good nights every night," said Nonis.

"But he's one of the players who is really going to benefit from these new rules. We expect him and we need him to have a good year, and we think he will."


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