New season. New number. New start for the Guelph Storm’s Tag Bertuzzi.
After struggling through an injury-riddled rookie campaign that saw him limited to 41 games last season, Bertuzzi is healthy and happy to see a new season on the horizon.
Bertuzzi switches to number 24 this season after wearing 10 last year.
“I wasn’t feeling 10 any more and 24 is what I’m more used to. I wore it in lacrosse,” Bertuzzi said of the new digits..
He wore 84 in midget hockey, but the Storm hasn’t issued any high numbers since the Dave Barr era. His dad Todd wore 44 in Guelph.
Number aside, it’s a chance for a new beginning for Bertuzzi, even though that seems a little strange to say for a 17 year old.
But he feels it too.
“It’s always nice to have a second chance. It’s what I need to prove to everyone I’m the player I know I am. I owe them and I owe myself to do a lot more than I did last year,” he said after practice earlier this week.
“RIght when we lost to Kitchener in Game 6 I was ready to play another game.
“It’s always tough to have the season like I did because of the expectations I have, but this is the biggest year of my life and I’m just going to play like that,” said Bertuzzi, who is up for the NHL draft next summer.
“It’s tough carrying such a well-known last name. It’s a big respect thing. But you can’t think too much about it, you always gotta’ carry your name with pride and I play my game with my style and my way and not listen to what anyone else says.”
A rookie in the Ontario Hockey League has enough on their plate adjusting to the game and playing against players up to four years older than them for the first time: The speed. The size. The crowds. The pressure. The schedule.
Throw in the fact he was the second overall pick in the OHL Priority Selection, you have “BERTUZZI” on your back and then suffer three significant injuries, well, 2017-2018 was pretty much a write-off for Bertuzzi.
He scored three goals and 11 points in 41 games and, somewhat laughably, had people wondering if he was cut out for this league.
“As the season continued on it always seemed like there was a lingering injury or a lingering problem,” said Bertuzzi, who suffered through a forearm, groin and concussion issues last year.
“It’s really tough, especially with it being my first year and having to go through that. But it’s over with and I’ve just go to look forward.”
Judging a player at 16 is ridiculous.
Let’s not forget how things went as 16 year olds for the two Bertuzzi’s revered by Storm fans: Todd Bertuzzi had 21 points his first season and Tyler Bertuzzi had 17 points. Neither hit the 10-goal mark.
Bertuzzi said he doubled-down on his preparation over the summer in anticipation of a better sophomore season. There was no summer vacation for this Bertuzzi.
“I think I endured most of my vacation toward the end of last season,” he joked. “I trained a lot more, a lot harder, a lot more efficiently. I was on the ice a lot more.”
How that translates into production this season remains to be seen, but with improved health, ice time and a team expected to perform much better, chances are Bert 3.0 will do just fine.
"It's crazy the number of bumps in the road he had to deal with," said Storm coach/general manager George Burnett. "He's healthy. He worked hard. He looks fit. I think he's excited to be back, it's a fresh start for everybody."