It might be a familiar name on the back of the jersey, but it's a unique individual wearing it.
Tag Bertuzzi landed in Guelph this week as the Storm opened its training camp.
The team’s first round pick in the last Ontario Hockey League draft is the son of Todd Bertuzzi, who played 18 seasons in the National Hockey League after a four-year career with the Storm in the early 1990s, and the cousin of Tyler Bertuzzi, who played four years in Guelph and is now knocking on the door of becoming a regular with the Detroit Red Wings.
“Growing up it was kind of hard, you’d always get chirped because of the last name,” admits Tag, 16, who grew up just outside Detroit and played his minor hockey with the Oakland Grizzlies organization.
“But at the same time it’s kind of cool to say your dad and your cousin both play in the NHL. You have to carry your name to a higher regard. People are going to try and mess with you, but you just have to disregard everything, be your own person and not let it get to you or get too frustrated with it.”
Different on the ice and off the ice, says his dad Todd.
“He’s a different bird,” the elder Bertuzzi says.
“He doesn’t take things the way I would have taken things and I’m proud of him for that,” says his father. “He’s a different kid. He handles situations very well.”
The difference between the two extends on the ice.
“I’m probably a bit more skilled, he was more of a brute force kind of player,” Tag says of his dad, who played over 1,200 games in the NHL.
His dad agrees.
“We’re completely different. He’s got a heck of a good skill set,” says Todd, 42, now retired from competitive hockey and in town to watch his son at training camp.
For one thing, Tag is more of a playmaking centre than a crash and bang winger, scoring 16 goals and adding 20 assists in 29 games with the Oakland Grizzlies his draft year.
Todd coached his son for the past three years with the Oakland Grizzlies organization just outside Detroit.
“I sat back most nights and enjoyed watching him,” says Todd.
“Obviously I was a little bit harder on him than most, but he was skilled and talented enough that I let him become his own player.”
Tag says his dad realized when it was time to let go a little bit.
“He was really tough on me to begin with, but he realized that I needed to learn how to become my own player,” Tag says. “The past year he just let me become who I wanted and guided me to become a better player.”
The first time he stepped on the Sleeman Centre ice earlier this week, Tag found himself on a line with OHL vets and NHL draft picks Givani Smith and Isaac Ratcliffe.
Not a bad way to start your rookie season.
“It was a little intimidating at first,” the team’s newest Bertuzzi says after that first practice.
“I expect the best of me. I put a lot of pressure on myself, but I think I’m ready for the OHL,” he says.
Father and son worked out all summer together in Michigan: Four days in the gym, on the ice three times a week.
“You can tell when an athlete’s work ethic is still there,” Tag says of their workout sessions.
“It’s kind of cool to see how he can work as hard as he can at that age even though he doesn’t have to play. I try and model myself after that.”
It’s just one of the benefits of having a dad who’s a pro hockey player.
“The best part for him is that he got to hang out for the past six or seven years, at a good age, watching me in Detroit and being around other hockey players and the dressing room,” says Todd.
“I got to go down to the locker rooms, see their pre-game rituals, how they prepare themselves for the games. I see how hard they work and the dedication they put into it,” says Tag, who has a sister Jaden, 18.
“It just helped with my maturity level. I just figured out things a lot quicker than other kids could.”
As his son moves on to junior hockey, Todd says his role is more dad than coach.
“I told him I’m here for support and help if he has a problem or he wants a question answered he can call me and ask me. Other than that I’m just here to enjoy it.”
The Storm plays three exhibition games this weekend, including a home game on Labour Day starting at 2 p.m.