Bertuzzi answers tough questions in tough setting
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- If the rehabilitation of Todd Bertuzzi begins with words, let it not be said that he did not choose his words carefully, powerfully, as he starts down the uncertain road toward redemption.
At times emotional, at times firmly defiant as he met with reporters for the first time in nearly a year-and-a-half since his brutal attack on Steve Moore, Bertuzzi never strayed from the core theme that he made a horrible mistake and he will not squander this second chance now that his 17-month suspension is at an end.
Todd Bertuzzi asked for forgiveness and a second chance Monday, 17 months after hitting Steve Moore.
• Bertuzzi's press conference
"Today's a new beginning for me and my family. There's no way I can change what happened in the past, but I'm going to do what I can to make sure that my career and my life aren't defined by what happened on March 8th , but rather what I did before, and most importantly what I do after," Bertuzzi told a throng of reporters hours before the start of Team Canada's Olympic orientation camp.
Clad in a Hockey Canada warm-up jacket and baseball cap, Bertuzzi was flanked by Canucks GM Dave Nonis, assistant GM Steve Tambellini, who is also an executive with Canada's Olympic team, and Bertuzzi's long-time agent Pat Morris.
But this was Bertuzzi's stage.
For the better part of half an hour, Bertuzzi thoughtfully answered questions about the attack on Moore that left the Avalanche forward with a broken vertebrae, concussion and an uncertain future, and about his reinstatement to the game a week ago by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
Bertuzzi explained that, contrary to comments made by Moore that he had never apologized publicly or privately, he has in fact tried to reach out to the Harvard graduate 10 different times but has been rebuffed at every turn.
Between Bertuzzi and Morris, they have tried to obtain Moore's phone number, have asked to meet, called the Colorado Avalanche, Moore's agent Larry Kelly and his Toronto-based lawyer Tim Danson.
"I've made many attempts to and have gotten nowhere. I wish him all the best in recovery and I was hoping for the opportunity to confront him and speak to him and his family and it's just never come about," said Bertuzzi, who managed to avoid sounding churlish regarding the issue.
"You have to respect people's decisions on things. Some people forgive a lot easier than others," Bertuzzi said. "I can't change someone else's mindset on me and I just have to continue to move forward."
There seemed about Bertuzzi a keen sense of self-awareness, an understanding that his actions had rippled across an entire sport and that part of the debt he now owes is not just to Moore, but to the sport as a whole. And while it must have been a humbling experience, Bertuzzi avoided hitting any false notes.
"Firstly, I sincerely hope Steve Moore continues to progress and is back in competition soon. I continue to hear and read of his progress and wish him the best in it. Secondly, I hope the NHL highlights from now on are of great plays and never of a night like on March 8. This is a great game and I'll do what I can to help it move forward," said Bertuzzi, who apologized from reading initially from a prepared statement "but I didn't want to forget anything."
Although Monday's media session, his first since giving a tearful apology two days after the incident, was significant in terms of Bertuzzi's public rehabilitation, there was an even more significant moment when Bertuzzi entered a dressing room that held a number of Moore's teammates, including Joe Sakic, Rob Blake and Alex Tanguay, and Adam Foote, who is now with Columbus. To a man they agreed, at least publicly, Bertuzzi had served his time and deserved to return to the game.
Blake said there is no question Bertuzzi is an elite player.
"He deserves to be here," he said.
"Certainly it's a situation we don't want in the game, but a price has been paid and we'll be moving along with it," added Team Canada head coach Pat Quinn.
After the media session, the 37 players invited to the camp stepped onto the ice at GM Place for a team photo prior to their first practice session, and the fans in attendance greeted Bertuzzi with a rousing cheer.
Bertuzzi looked no different than he did when he last played -- unshaven, imposing -- and didn't look out of place during what was the first formal workout for many players since the start of the lockout.
During drills, he skated with Brad Richards and Shane Doan. The more than 12,000 on hand to watch the practice and a scrimmage involving Canada's national junior team cheered each time Bertuzzi was featured on the video scoreboard. The crowd also booed one of Bertuzzi's linemates on a rush when the puck wasn't passed to him.
When Bertuzzi left the ice, he stopped to sign jerseys for fans hanging over the walkway leading to the dressing rooms.
Twice in the last three seasons, Bertuzzi has been a top-five point producer. He insisted Monday he will not change his playing style, even though Bettman has told him he will be held to a higher standard than other players in terms of on-ice behavior.
"I've heard a lot of stuff about people thinking that I'm going to come back soft," Bertuzzi said. "That's not who I am. It's not how my parents raised me."
Several times when discussing the support of his wife and family and friends, Bertuzzi paused, trying to keep his emotions in check.
"I'm sure it's just like Steve Moore and his family. It's been difficult I think for both parties. I wish that day never happened. It has. But it's some tough times. But I've got good family and good friends and good peers in the league that have helped me get over the hump and move forward."
There are, of course, many who believe Bertuzzi's punishment does not fit the crime, given Moore's uncertain future. But it's clear from Bettman's written reasons for reinstating Bertuzzi that the player's contrition for his behavior was genuine and was a significant factor in bringing the suspension to an end.
"When I went in there, I just looked him in the eye and I told him I made a mistake and I want a chance to come back and change things, and I'm thankful the opportunity's been given to me to come back and to change things," Bertuzzi said. "I'm looking forward to the opportunity."
In the end, they are merely words. They have meaning only if Bertuzzi is able to make good on his promise to be a better person, on and off the ice. But if these words are an omen of what is to come, then maybe he has a chance.
It was fitting, in the end, that the final question was perhaps the most difficult to answer -- the question of why he deserves this chance.
Bertuzzi was silent for a moment before answering.
"I'm a firm believer in second chances. And if we're going to go through life not giving anyone second chances, what kind of life are we going to have around here? People make mistakes in life. Unfortunately, I was under the microscope and on TV when my mistake happened. And if I'm going to sit here and keep getting ridiculed about it, how are we ever going to give someone a second chance to become better or to change situations? And I hope everyone can do that for me."
Scott Burnside is a freelance writer based in Atlanta and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.