Todd Bertuzzi talks about playing in West Coast Express era and how hockey is producing more teams like the early 2000s Canucks
6 months ago
Since he joined the Vancouver Canucks in a 1998 trade that sent Trevor Linden to the Islanders, Todd Bertuzzi has seen the team and the city change a lot.
Bertuzzi made an appearance on Canucks Conversation on Wednesday to talk about his time as a Canuck, what it was like playing in the middle of the Dead Puck Era and how the game has evolved since his playing days.
At the time Bertuzzi arrived, Vancouver had fallen out of love with the Canucks as a whole. The Mark Messier-Mike Keenan era had turned a lot of fans away, and the magic of the 1994 team was far in the rearview.
But the youthful makeup of the West Coast Express era team, along with their entertaining style of play, quickly brought the fans back.
“We were chasing Trevor Linden, Kirk McLean, Courtnall, Jyrki Lumme, Dana Murzyn, Dave Babych, all the stuff that those guys contributed did back then when they had so much success and lost to the Rangers,” Bertuzzi said. “But the city was crazy at that time and I know it went through a lot where the team wasn’t as good, changes needed to be made. It was just fun that we were that group to come in and do the exact same thing that they did.”
“Coming from Sudbury, Ontario and just wanting to be a hockey player and then getting thrown into what we were considered and looked at in Vancouver. You felt like a rock star kind of at times. It was a very, very cool era.”
Bertuzzi and his teammates caught lightning in a bottle. They went to the playoffs three times, won two Northwest Division titles, and played a futuristic style of hockey that encouraged a faster pace and higher scoring.
“That whole group came together and turned that city upside down with our play and made it one of the most watched teams, even in the East Coast for how we played,” Bertuzzi said.
“I know a lot of people contributed to the West Coast Express and all that. The Matt Cooke’s, the Jarkko Ruutu’s, just a whole bunch of beauty guys and I know we all look back, we wish we would have accomplished more. But I think putting Vancouver back on the map, putting fans in the stands, making ownership a lot of money and making it must-watch TV. That’s what I take a lot of pride in.”
But as Bertuzzi later noted, that success didn’t translate as far as he and his teammates hoped.
“Unfortunately we were special in the regular season, and it still hurts to say that we couldn’t accomplish more in the playoffs. I know losing to the Red Wings, losing to Minnesota, and then the series that I wasn’t in when the guys battled hard, we lost to Calgary. I think those were probably three opportunities that we could have taken more advantage of.”
Despite the lack of postseason success, Bertuzzi felt his Canucks were extremely successful in other ways; particularly, the group effort to play a fun game every night.
“It was fun seeing Markus win MVP and scoring titles. It was fun just seeing individual successes for different guys and how popular the other guys became in the hockey world and all that. We had a very, very good group of misfit toys that liked to have a lot of fun.”
Those individual successes were a true team effort. Markus Naslund, Brendan Morrison and Bertuzzi formed the iconic WCE line, and Bertuzzi felt that their peak seasons from 2002 to 2004 were the result of three players with different skill sets understanding each other perfectly.
“All three brought different things to the table,” Bertuzzi said. “Markus with his leadership, his shot, his speed, his hockey IQ. Brendan with his 200-foot game and really high hockey IQ, he doesn’t get enough credit for how intelligently he played the game. Even back then when we were playing a “run and gun” game, or at least me and Markus were, Mo knew how to play 200 feet.”
“And then obviously with me, I would come in and I just played my game. I tried to be physical, and when I needed to I stuck up for my teammates, and I thought I had pretty good skill with a puck. I loved to be creative.”
Bertuzzi then went on to talk about how despite playing in an era where defence and low-scoring games were the norm, he hopes to see the skill of players like Connor Bedard and Trevor Zegras continue to take centre stage.
“Our practices were some of the most fun, I wish more people could have watched and they could have been filmed. Because as much as [head coach Marc Crawford] hated it, we would continuously just kind of globe trot through practices with drop passes and do stuff that you see a lot of the creative kids do nowadays,” Bertuzzi said.
“That’s why I’m pretty stoked where the game is right now with how these kids are being very creative, doing things that I think we all wish that we could have done back then, but it was so frowned upon to do a little bit of hot dogging in and all that. I hope that the coaches allow the leash to keep extending, so we can see the greatest game on Earth getting better. Because these kids are filthy with the puck, and I enjoy watching a lot of their skill.”
As for the players he faced, Bertuzzi felt his era was set apart by the tough, physical play and the cast of people who played those roles like Chris Pronger and Adam Foote. But when asked who the toughest player to play against was, no player frustrated him more than Detroit’s Niklas Lidstrom.
“I could never hit him, I could never engage him, I could never piss him off, I could do nothing to him. He would just frustrate me with his stick, his positioning and his demeanour, like he doesn’t even talk trash or any of that kind of stuff,” Bertuzzi said.
“I was fortunate to play with him, and he’s one of the most incredible guys I’ve ever come across.”
For the rest of Bertuzzi’s interview, check out the video below:
Failed to load video.
You can catch the livestream of Canucks Conversation at 1 PM Pacific Monday through Friday on The Nation Network’s Youtube Channel here and the CanucksArmy Twitter account here.
The show is also available in podcast format around 2 PM every day wherever you get your podcasts!
Recent articles from Lachlan Irvine