The second overall pick in the 2017 OHL draft is about to enter his rookie season on the team that his NHL dad and cousin both starred on.
The name “Bertuzzi” means a lot in Guelph. Home to the OHL’s Storm, Guelph saw Todd Bertuzzi take the team to the 1995 OHL final and his nephew, Tyler Bertuzzi, help the squad win the championship in 2014. That Storm team went all the way to the Memorial Cup final before losing to the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings.
The franchise fell into a hole once Tyler and his crew (which included Robby Fabbri, Kerby Rychel and Brock McGinn) left, but now the Storm is ascendant once again – and another member of the clan is part of the rise.
Tag Bertuzzi is Todd’s 16-year-old son. He was taken second overall by Guelph in the OHL draft this summer and has shown few rookie jitters through his first three pre-season games. A natural center who has been playing left wing early on, Bertuzzi has impressed coach/GM George Burnett so far.
“He has a really good powerful presence on the ice that is beyond his years,” Burnett said. “He’s around the puck a lot and he plays with an edge. You’re aware he’s there and he hits hard.”
Bertuzzi came out of the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies program, located just north of Detroit. Former NHLer Jason Woolley was a coach there and showed early faith in the kid.
“I started playing with them for U14 when I went a year up,” Bertuzzi said. “Mr. Woolley scouted me when I was at Little Caesar’s and told me to come. I thought it would be good for my development to play a year up and then I realized I liked playing for the Grizzlies, so I stuck around there for three years.”
Three years in the same place is actually a lot for the youngster, whose childhood was transient thanks to his dad’s NHL career.
“I was born in Vancouver, then I moved to Calgary, Anaheim, Florida, Detroit…I moved all around,” Bertuzzi said. “Looking back it was kinda crazy, but as a young kid you don’t know anything, so it was just normal life.”
But that life came with some enormous benefits for the youngster.
“I always went through the NHL dressing rooms to see the big experience,” he said. “When my dad played for the Red Wings I was 12 or 13, so I would go on the ice before practice and some of the guys who came on early would take the puck off of me. It was really fun.”
Having those pro experiences and an NHL father put Bertuzzi at ease in the hockey world and it comes across when you speak with him. Burnett, who saw Bertuzzi play last year when he was GM of the OHL’s Flint Firebirds, sees a level of maturity in the kid that has helped the adjustment to major junior so far.
And while his comfort and 6-foot-1, 190-pound frame make him seem less like the rookie he is, it’s important to remember that Bertuzzi isn’t eligible for the NHL draft until 2019 and that he still wants to hammer out his game. Defensive zone play and learning to dominate every shift are on his long-term agenda and he likes to watch Evgeni Malkin and John Tavares for inspiration.
Burnett likes that the rookie is developing his own identity and that will be important for a kid whose last name is a lot less popular outside of Guelph than it is at the Sleeman Centre. But Tag has been there, done that, already.
“I get a lot of chirps for it, but it’s all in good fun,” he said. “You carry the name on your sweater, so you have to wear it well.”