Back to business for Bert

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:35 PM ET

VANCOUVER -- Right off the bat, the change in Todd Bertuzzi is evident.

In the past, Bertuzzi was one of the Vancouver Canucks' most reticent talkers. He wasn't overly forthcoming with the media and sometimes shunned them completely.

But yesterday, after his last full-scale practice before tonight's season-opener against the Phoenix Coyotes, Bertuzzi was the first player to arrive in the dressing room.

In every National Hockey League room, the arrival of the first player elicits a media stampede and usually, the veterans let one of the lesser lights pay his dues.

"You're the first guy out," observed a visiting writer when Bertuzzi walked in. "That's a mistake."

"It was no mistake," said Bertuzzi quietly.

Bertuzzi's tribulations over the last year-and-a-half have been well documented. The March 8, 2004, punch from behind on Steve Moore. The suspension. The lawsuit.

The matter is no longer broached. On occasion, someone unfamiliar with the ground rules brings it up and Bertuzzi simply says politely that he has answered the questions on that subject and it's no longer open for discussion.

Yesterday, no one brought it up. This was the eve of the season, time to talk about hockey and something Bertuzzi is quite willing to do.

Bertuzzi knows that in some ways, his season will be a difficult one. He expects to receive an unpleasant reception in some cities, but takes solace from the fact that 41 games are played at home where the fans have been highly supportive.

"It's nice playing here," he said. "I don't think it's going to be like that playing anywhere else, so I might as well enjoy it here while I can get it. If it's going to happen, its going to happen. I'll deal with it. I'm a pretty strong person, so I'll know what I have to do on the ice."

It is on the ice that Bertuzzi intends to answer his critics. "I'm all prepared for whatever comes," he said. "It motivates you. If anything, it makes you want to work a little bit harder to get a goal just to show them."

Getting goals is what Bertuzzi does well. Around the league, fans often wonder out loud whether Bertuzzi will be a softer player as a result of the negative effects of the Moore hit.

But really, most of Bertuzzi's physical battles are deep in the offensive zone and in many cases, he shows his strength through the hits he absorbs, not the hits he delivers.

Canucks coach Marc Crawford expects no change.

"I think he's going to be just as he was before in front of the net and with the puck around the net," Crawford said. "Todd has had some very very big hits in his career ... but his game is more about what he does in front of the net, what he does around the net, what he does in the scoring area, and what he does to get into those areas.

Bertuzzi shares that assessment.

"I'm a player who tries to find those holes and gets into the corners and tries to find my spots in front of the net," he said. "I'm a player who battles hard. The game hasn't changed that much.

"Those big huge hits aren't always going to be there and people have to expect it because of the difference in the rules, but I think you're going to get enough of it.

"I'm prepared for what's to come. I'm excited actually."

Last year, Markus Naslund, Trevor Linden and Bertuzzi, three of the top media targets, had adjacent stalls. This year, Bertuzzi has moved across the room so that there will be less of a crunch when the media want to talk to both him and Naslund. He expects there to be many such occasions, and he intends to be a solid citizen.

After his reinstatement on Aug. 15, Bertuzzi said, "I'm going to do what I can to make sure that my career and my life aren't defined by what happened on March 8, but rather what I did before and most importantly what I do after."

He appears to have meant it.


Photos