Canadian idol

Monday, 15.04.2013 / 10:47 AM / Features
By Derek Jory
Zack Kassian gushed. And gushed. And gushed. He just couldn’t help himself.

When the Canucks hit the ice for practice in Nashville Sunday there were two Detroit Red Wings still on the ice. No, they weren’t putting in extra work for last night’s tilt between the Red Wings and Predators, they stuck around to say hello.

Ex-Canucks Mikael Samuelsson and Todd Bertuzzi were the players who took a few minutes to renew acquaintances and it was hugs, high-fives, fist pounds and head nods as usual until Kassian spotted Bertuzzi.

Kassian, as he later revealed, idolizes Big Bert; he’s admired the 38-year-old power forward for as long as he can remember. When his friends were imitating Sundin, Jagr, Naslund and Sakic playing street hockey back in the day, Kassian was Bertuzzi. Always.

Canucks head trainer Mike Burnstein got an autographed stick from Bertuzzi for Kassian earlier this year, so Kassian pounced at the opportunity to thank him for it and snag a priceless Kodak moment.

“That’s a big thrill for me,” smiled Kassian after practice. “He was my idol growing up. He was a great player, he still is, he’s big and strong and skilled and has a mean streak, so there’s not much not to like about him.”

Kassian was still a member of the Buffalo Sabres last season when he hit the ice against Bertuzzi for the very first time, and, well, it was a memorable experience.

“I remember I was behind the net and he grabbed me and said ‘easy, kid’ and I just couldn’t believe it. That was a weird moment.”

There are definite similarities between Bertuzzi and Kassian, although the 22-year-old knows it’s way too early to compare his game to that of his idol.

“I’ve still got a ways to go to fit in his shoes, but it’s something I definitely strive for. Everyone wants to be their own player, but there’s stuff in his game that I’d like to hopefully get.”

Kevin Bieksa said there’s more Bertuzzi in Kassian than the youngster realizes.

“They both protect the puck really well, both big, strong, mean guys, both have back problems, both from around the Windsor area, there’s a lot of similarities between them for sure, and that’s a good thing.”

No one speaks as highly of Bertuzzi than Bieksa, who came to the Canucks from the Manitoba Moose during the 2005-06 season. The rookie was welcomed with open arms by the grizzled veteran and they formed a bond that remains today.

Bieksa believes Kassian looking up to Bertuzzi is a great way to bring the best out of the second year Canucks forward.

“I can speak for Burr and myself and Kes, Bertuzzi was really good with us, he was at the peak of his career when he was here. Him and Markus and Brendan were arguably the best line in the league and it was great for us to come into the league at that time and see the level of skill and dedication that they had. We learned a lot from those guys, especially Bertuzzi, early on.”

Kassian, Bieksa and the Canucks will faceoff against Bertuzzi and the Red Wings once more this season and with the playoff race as tight as it is in the Western Conference, don’t expect many friendly conversations.

Neither side would have it any other way.