Sunday, September 10, 2006

Bertuzzi breaks his silence

Vancouver Canuck fans were busy picking up copies of the Sunday Province, as Tony Gallagher hunted down the story that everyone wanted to know. What happened in Vancouver between Todd Bertuzzi and Marc Crawford?

The Canuck's longest running secret, finally got its airing, as Gallagher prodded Bertuzzi for answers about cliques on the team, Crawfords handling of the failed stretch drive and Bertuzzi's thoughts on his former coach.

Bertuzzi discloses that he was injured at the start of the season but didn't want to make too large a deal about it, lest people look at him as looking for excuses. More importantly he expressed frustration at the way Crawford handled some of the other players on the team at the time as well as the way the first line was shuffled aside as the run for the playoffs intensified.

It's a good read and for Canuck fans will answer a lot of questions about how the team that was on the verge of winning a Stanley Cup prior to the lockout, imploded so fast once the team returned to the ice.

Bert describes his problems with Crow
Admits Crawford was 'best coach I ever played for,' but also has issues

Tony Gallagher
The Province
Sunday, September 10, 2006

The thing about Marc Crawford that bothered Todd Bertuzzi the most was the way the coach treated Bert's friend and former teammate Brad May.

Todd Bertuzzi is moving on with his life in Florida these days, having been through more grief in two-plus years than most athletes would experience over several careers.

One of the NHL's top offensive stars, Bertuzzi has been working out with Panther players in preparation for training camp, but he agreed to answer tough questions about his time in Vancouver.

In a wide-ranging discussion involving his relationship with former Canucks coach Marc Crawford, his relationship with his teammates and his feelings towards the fans he still loves here in Vancouver, Bertuzzi didn't duck when it came to honesty.

"I don't want to come off as a guy leaving a city with sour grapes but I'm just telling you because you asked," said Bertuzzi.

"We had some real differences in philosophy, and there were some things he did that really bothered me, most particularly how he handled my friends -- Brad May especially.

"He never played him. He never gave him a chance to show what he could do. Here was a guy who was a 15-year war vet, a warrior, a guy who had fought every tough guy in the league and yet he was never put out there in any other kind of situation. And this was a guy who could handle all kinds of roles in the league. That really bothered me.

"There were other things, too. I thought he hit the panic button down the stretch [last year as the Canucks tried to make the playoffs] and wanted us to play a different style when things got tough.

"Everyone knew what kind of team we had and he was trying to get us to play like the Minnesota Wild. Our [Bertuzzi's line's] ice time dropped off and he was trying to get guys like Markus to dump the puck in and play in a way that wasn't very effective for us. And here I was, an 11-year guy, and he was threatening to sit me out and other great players as well and I thought that was a little ridiculous to treat guys that way, who you have ridden to success playing a different way before. It just didn't make sense to me.

"In fairness to him, we did struggle but one of the things that bothers me most about leaving Vancouver is the fact we [he, Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison] weren't together as a line at the end. Here we were ridden like horses for the better part of four years, two or three of them for sure, and when it gets down to it and the pressure is on, we're on the side burner when we knew we could still get the job done.

"We used to be out for a minute and a half on some power plays but then suddenly we were the second unit and we felt a little bit used. It was pretty frustrating knowing we could still do it but missing the playoffs like that. We just went into a style I wasn't going to play.

"But having said that, on balance of all my time in Vancouver, I still think he's probably the best coach I ever played for. A lot of the talk about tension between us was overblown, a media thing.
"We had some issues but that doesn't mean he's a bad coach and I certainly don't want to leave here being the guy calling him down. At New Year's [2005-06] five or six of us guys sat down with him for a handful of beers and we had a good talk and he even picked up the tab and the communication lines were open.

But I'm not going to lie to you and say everything was fine."

Bertuzzi was also stung by the criticism immediately after the trading deadline, which fingered the relationship between himself and Naslund as dysfunctional on the team.

"I really do think it was overblown and it was mostly started by one guy, and how can I control what one guy like Steve McCarthy thinks," said Bertuzzi.

"When all that stuff started coming out it bothered all of us so much we had a team meeting about it and it was one of those where it was nothing but the truth or leave the room. Not one guy stood up and said he had a problem.

"I think it was mostly sour grapes on his [McCarthy's] part because he wasn't playing much and when he left he said those things. I don't know why he said them.

"I hung around a lot with Markus, Clouts [Dan Cloutier] and Richard Park and spent a lot of time with Jovo and that pretty much touches all those so-called cliques. There were lots of times we asked him to come out to dinner but you can't help it if a guy doesn't want to come or wants to stay in his room.

"He's a man and can make his own choices, his own decisions. You can't beg the guy to come out.

"Why should I have to defend my friendship with Markus? That really bothered me because I shouldn't have to do it. Our wives were close, our kids used to spend time together and there was nothing wrong with that, and for me to have to defend the fact I have a close friend on the team isn't right.

"We weren't excluding anyone else. Ask Wino [Eric Weinrich] and [Keith] Carney what it was like when they got there and see if there were any problems. They'll tell you what it was like. Those guys have both been around and with a lot of teams."

Bertuzzi admitted his performance last season was not up to his usual standards.

"It was a tough year because I had been out that whole year and when I started, my back and wrist were bothering me but I didn't want to make excuses so I played that down," he said.

"And I have to say I wasn't mentally ready to play last year. I tried like hell, I prepared as best I could, I gave everything I had, but it just wasn't there. And the harder I tried to make something happen the worse it got. I just want to put it behind me. It hurts like hell leaving Vancouver. Sometimes driving to the rink down here I think about all the good times, the great city, all the friends I made who supported me and it hurts. But I needed a change. It was time."

The prospects of that change being a positive for Bertuzzi took a blow recently when Mike Keenan was deposed as the Panthers GM. It was Keenan who brought the league's top power forward to Vancouver from the Islanders and was always one of his biggest backers.

"I wasn't in on any of the scuttlebutt ... I just heard one or two things when I got a call from Jacques [now coach and GM Martin] telling me that Mike had stepped down and I was a little shocked," said Bertuzzi.

Bertuzzi is already thinking about Jan. 7, 2007, when the Panthers come to town.

"That will be the hardest game I'll probably ever have to play," he said. "I've got friends on the team and the fans in Vancouver are absolutely the best. The support they have given me over the years, I'll never be able to thank them enough.

"You know, we didn't win a Cup in Vancouver and didn't get even to the third round but I had many great experiences with the people I met and I'll always remember my time there. I won't forget those people.

"In fact, at the end of this year, I'm an unrestricted free agent again.

"You never know, stranger things have happened."

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