Thursday night’s goal explosion during the Red Wings’ home opener brought into clear focus the Tyler Bertuzzi vaccine crisis. Bertuzzi scored a career-best four times in a 7-6 loss in overtime to the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning at the LCA.
His brilliance was a promising but mixed blessing. As it stands now, Bertuzzi might miss at least nine road games of the 82-game season. He can’t play in Canada due to his refusal to take the Covid-19 vaccine during the current pandemic.
Bertuzzi also might miss games in the U.S. because cities like New York restrict unvaccinated people in enclosed buildings to keep the masses free from a fatal disease. Bertuzzi’s reluctance is one of two major challenges facing two of Detroit’s best players early in what is supposed to be a renaissance season. The other involves Dylan Larkin, the star of the team.
Should the Wings play a Canadian team in the playoffs -- assuming the restrictions stay in place -- Bertuzzi could miss half a series. Although not as destructive and defiant as Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets – who might miss the entire National Basketball Association season due to vax resistance – Bertuzzi’s decision is nevertheless short-sighted and selfish.
“It’s a personal choice, freedom of choice, and life choice,” Bertuzzi said last month in his brief and terse remarks about his decision. “It’s pretty set in stone.”
And that is a hard-headed point of view. Bertuzzi plays in a sport where players often “take one for the team” (a blocked shot, a body check, a punch in the nose). They verbalize a militant humility about group loyalty.
Suspended Larkin also a worry
In a battle against a fatal illness like Covid, Bertuzzi’s refusal to get the vaccine betrays not only his teammates but also all National Hockey League players and humanity in general.
Teammates won’t speak out against him, but others will. One is former Red Wing Darren McCarty, a local hockey oracle, who recently told the Woodward Sports Network web site that Bertuzzi’s decision shows a lack of dedication.
“If somebody is not 100 percent committed because they can’t be there or anything like that, then you’re going to war without all your guys,” McCarty said. “This is one of those things where you’re either in or you’re in the way. ... He’s on an island by himself.”
McCarty acknowledged Bertuzzi’s decision was personal; that doesn’t make it right.
“If it’s that personal, then don’t play hockey at all,” McCarty said. “Remove yourself.”
The other early crisis facing the Wings is Friday’s one-game suspension of Larkin, who is Bertuzzi’s linemate. After scoring early Thursday, Larkin was ejected for slugging Tampa’s Matieu Joseph in the head after Joseph rammed Larkin into the boards from behind and left him stunned and rattled.
Larkin will miss Saturday night’s home game against Vancouver. And the situation might be worse. Larkin didn’t practice Friday for what the Wings’ called health reasons. This might have been a ploy by them to say to the NHL “our guy really got hurt and that’s why he over-reacted.”
'Ultimate Team Sport'
Or it might be worse. Those who watched Thursday night’s game on Bally Sports Detroit (BSD)clearly saw Larkin go down in a pile of players. One of the linesmen breaking up the scrum signaled to the Wings’ bench for medical help.
A trainer with a worried face attended to Larkin and walked him off the ice carefully. Larkin’s face showed obvious discomfort.
But the multiple faces talking on the BSD telecast never acknowledged what the viewers saw and never followed up about a possible injury. In addition to all the clutter on its sloppy telecasts, BSD could serve its audience better with actual reporting regarding the team’s most important player.
As for Bertuzzi, he could lose about $400,000 in salary from his two-year, $9.5 million contract if he has to skip road games in Canada. Commissioner Gary Bettman sent him a broad, general hint this week in citing the league’s voluntary compliance of almost 100 per cent.
“Everybody bonding together to do the right thing,” Bettman said. “Maybe that’s why hockey is the ultimate team sport.”
In that Bertuzzi won’t explain his reasons for his freedom of choice, it’s reasonable to speculate.
Bertuzzi announced recently that his fiancé is pregnant with their first child. He said cryptically that he made his anti-vax decision after consulting with both his and her families. Pregnancy is hard enough and a first baby is both a joyous and stressful time for young parents.
Perhaps their decision is an overly careful measure to protect the baby. As we see in many phases of life, there is always a good reason to make a bad decision. Bertuzzi has time to correct it. He needs to know we are all in this together, or should be.
As Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post wrote Friday regarding Irving, “There are occasions – such as wartime – when individual rights are outweighed by collective duty. We are at war with the virus.”