February 14, 2006
Bertuzzi says ease up
Controversial Canuck supports Gretzky
MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

It was supposed to be Todd Bertuzzi who was going to step off the Team Canada charter and into the lion's den in Turin.

It was Bertuzzi who was going to be the lightning rod of controversy in the eyes of the international press upon his arrival today at the Winter Olympics.

The media were going to want to know about the Steve Moore affair. They were going to want to know if the highly publicized incident would prove to be a distraction to Team Canada, even though it has been two years since it happened.

Then came Operation Slap Shot and the accompanying hysteria surrounding Wayne Gretzky's possible -- albeit unproven -- association.

Suddenly, Bertuzzi became a sidebar.

You might have figured Bertuzzi might relish this newfound anonymity. But the Vancouver Canucks forward would have none of it yesterday, choosing instead to come to Gretzky's defence.

No stranger to having his own name dragged through the mud in the public spotlight, Bertuzzi is sickened by the endless innuendo surrounding Gretzky, the executive director of Team Canada.

"I think (the Gretzky criticism) is unjustified," Bertuzzi said before hopping on the team charter bound for Italy.

"And it's too bad. He's such a great guy.

"I think the whole key here is that everyone was speculating. That's what happens when this speculation stuff begins. Different people's names get thrown out for no reason at all.

"I do feel for him and his family. It's wrong. But Wayne's a strong guy and a guy who will come to the forefront each and every day. He has taken way too much heat over mere allegations and speculation."

Gretzky has been one of Bertuzzi's strongest backers since Canada's 23-man roster was revealed just before Christmas. His inclusion ignited criticism throughout the hockey world, but Bertuzzi has no problem tuning it out.

"I'm letting it go and it's done with," Bertuzzi said. "I'm going over there with a clean slate."

Controversy has raged from the time the lineup was announced Dec. 21.

The Canadian Olympic Committee initially took issue with the selections of Bertuzzi, Dany Heatley and Shane Doan before finally agreeing to the setup. Heatley is on probation for the crash that killed former teammate Dan Snyder while Doan was accused of uttering a racial slur.

Now comes Operation Slap Shot, yet another issue the team will be asked about instead of the hockey question: "What is needed for this team to win its second consecutive Olympic gold?"

"I think it's funny that we have to answer these things (about Gretzky)," goalie Martin Brodeur said. "After all, the highlight of our lives is playing in the Olympics right now. It's a great opportunity to compete at the highest standard of hockey. So for people to waste their time asking these questions, we just brush them off and move on."

And move on they will.

The focus, after all, is on the opener against the host Italians tomorrow in Turin.

In the meantime, the only slapshots Team Canada wants to think about are the ones they plan to direct at the Italian goalie.