LONDON, Ont. — Tyler Bertuzzi is often on his own wavelength off the ice and on everyone's nerves while on it.
It takes all kinds to win a Memorial Cup. The Guelph Storm with the strongest case for tourney MVP is Bertuzzi, who's scored five goals in three games and might have made several London dentists richer with all the jaw-grinding he caused in the Knights' season-ending loss. Bertuzzi has 19 potential answers to where he gets booed the most in the OHL — "Maybe North Bay in Game 4 (of the final), I got beer and popcorn spilled on me" — but hit the high note on Wednesday.
Bertuzzi flailed on the ice after being kneed by London's Nikita Zadorov in the second period, turning the rink into Boooooooodweiser Gardens every time he touched the puck. Then he went top shelf for his second goal of the night to restore a two-goal margin. That summed up how far the Detroit Red Wings second-round pick has come across three years in the OHL. As a rookie, he left the impression of being an undersized fighter, getting in 16 fights (which would now incur a suspension). Now he's sniping.
"My rookie year, I just needed to show what I could do whether it was fighting or being an agitator," said Bertuzzi, who will play in the final even though the run-in with the 6-foot-5, 228-pound Zadorov left him limping around. "It's fun, though. You get the guys going, you get the team going, you get the other team going. It makes the guys excited and it gets them energy."
Given Bertuzzi's rep, many eyebrows shot up when he went from a hobble-off on Wednesday to returning after missing only 70 seconds of action. He was hurt, just not injured: "There was only a period left and I knew we'd have three days off before the final."
The run-in with Zadorov was also nothing compared to missing several weeks this season with a recurring head/neck ailment that also limited him to 43 games in 2012-13. The Storm and the Red Wings, whom the left wing's uncle Todd Bertuzzi plays for, tried a number of treatments before Bertuzzi was able to return early in the playoffs. He tallied 10 goals and 17 points across 18 games, roiling opponents all the way.
"After his injury, he came back strong for us from Day One," Storm centre Jason Dickinson says. "It didn't take him any time to get back in the groove."
That groove involves Little Bert marching to his own beat. Following Game 3 of the OHL final, it was impossible to tell if Bertuzzi was acting or actually angry while he was absorbed in rooting through the trainer's case for a hair tie. The next night, after the 10-1 win where he got the beer dumped on him, Bertuzzi stood outside the rink by the idling bus meeting with family and friends. When the calls of "get on the bus Bert!" accumulated, he obliged, while leaving his equipment bag sitting in the arena hallway. Junior players are responsible for loading their bag on to the bus. Fortunately for the Storm, someone was able to retrieve it.
"That was funny," Dickinson says. "We thought we were going to have to turn around, and leave him there with the bag.
"He's a different character," adds Dickinson, who came to the Storm at the same time as Bertuzzi in 2011. "He's one of those guys where you got to let him do what he does and not even question it. He's just spacey. You never know what you're going to get with him, honestly. It's always something different."
Bertuzzi acknowledges he comes by that image honestly.
"I just like joking around," says the Sudbury, Ont., native, who's sprouted up to 6-foot-1 and 187 pounds. "I'm not really a serious guy."
Detroit seems like its heroes to be rough around the edges. Time will tell if the 19-year-old Bertuzzi gets to fill that cultural niche while wearing thev winged wheel. At the OHL level, he's indispensable, more for his skill nowadays than for riling up foes.
"He's a rambunctious guy but he's a lot of energy," Storm coach Scott Walker says. "His teammates get a lot of energy from him. There's lot of guys in the NHL that guys love to have on their team. The fans love them. The fans in the other barns hate him.
"The things Bert does on the ice are really good, but it's the other things that almost leaves the other guys more room to do them," adds Walker, who played 14 years in the NHL. "If they're always focusing on him, it gives more room for Robby [Fabbri], [Kerby] Rychel, Mitch [Zack Mitchell], Kossy [Scott Kosmachuk], [Brock] McGinn, and all our other great players.
"They're focusing on him. The crowd is focusing on him. He plays a very important role."
Bertuzzi produces while using playing third-line left wing with first-year Swiss centre Pius Suter and defensively minded Stephen Pierog. Call him a secondary scorer and a primary source of amusement, which is all part of the group dynamic.
"He's a great guy to have around, loosen up the mood, lift people's spirits when we're down," Kosmachuk says. "We get a good laugh out of him. That being said, he does a great job. He can put the puck in the net, as everyone's seen."
Bertuzzi is making the Red Wings look wise for stepping up to pick him No. 58 overall in the 2013 draft after injuries limited his exposure. His progress has been steady, though.
"Over the three years I've been in the OHL my skills have improved a lot," he says. "Last year I scored 13 goals in about 35 games. This year I've had a lot of confidence coming into these big games."
And he'll continue to try to hack off opponents. The trigger for the London crow d actually came in the first period. Bertuzzi did a World Cup-worthy flop after a cross-check from the Knights' Zach Bell. The referee called both the cross-check and the diving, but Bertuzzi had succeeded in pushing London closer to its low boiling point.
Or as Bertuzzi casually described the run-in with Bell: "He asked me to fight after and I didn't really feel like it."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.
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