Todd Bertuzzi was sitting with teammates in a popular Vancouver restaurant mere minutes before he passed out in a hotel lobby.
“I remember sitting at the Cactus Club and, all of a sudden, I started getting the sweats really, really bad. All of a sudden, my heart started going like crazy and I wasn’t sure what was going on. I kind of got scared,” he said today about his final playing days in 2013-14.
He’d managed to call his trainers for help. And then medical staff from the Vancouver Canucks came to the aid of the visiting Detroit Red Wings winger. It was the veteran power forward’s last season in the NHL on what would be his last trip as an active skater to the city where he’d played eight seasons and also where he’d faced criminal charges for a violent on-ice incident 10 seasons earlier.
He was having a panic attack. What started that night didn’t alleviate for years, he said.
“I had no clue what any of that was. I was naive to any of that stuff. I was a hockey player. I was supposed to be a superhero or this big tough thing and all this,” Bertuzzi told the hosts of the Starting Lineup on Sportsnet 650 this morning in an emotional interview about mental health during Bell’s important social media campaign, Let’s Talk.
“Many nights, just sitting there crying for no reason and not understanding what is going on … and then that’s when I had to retire and walk away from the game. That’s when things even escalated even more. I really secluded myself to just my house, my room and it was one of those things — I could never shut off my brain, it was just going and going and going.”
As much as Bertuzzi’s life changed following his hit on Steve Moore in 2004, the Avalanche rookie’s life was also forever altered. Moore’s career was over that night. Bertuzzi pled guilty to assault charges. Moore later sued the Canucks.
Unfairly maligned as a terse brute, Bertuzzi buried his pain. A decade later as his own career was ending, those feelings surfaced with a vengeance and were compounded by additional life pressures.
“At times it was embarrassing for myself. I thought it was embarrassing because I’m not supposed to be someone who goes through something like this.
“I can look at it now and be able to explain it now without having outside people making fun of me of me or saying, ‘You got what you deserved.’ I am man enough I can say, from 2004 and on, and then with retirement coming near the end and not being the player in my mind I thought I could have ended up being, regarding everything that has happened — the build up of all that and retirement threw me over the edge.”
The 1993 first-round draft pick (23rd overall) who turns 43 on Friday, found the courage to turn to family, friends and also his children.
“I never wanted to speak about it or talk about it because I thought public opinion would just squash on me again. But I’ve accepted where I am in life and I understand everything that I’ve done and I am comfortable with where I am.”
He played his last NHL season in 2013-14, amassing 770 points in 1,159 games with the Islanders, Canucks, Panthers, Ducks, Flames and Red Wings. Active now as a minor hockey coach in Michigan, Bertuzzi said he’s learned to recognize when others — strangers among them — who may be suffering silently.
Most mental health issues are highly treatable if caught early. Early diagnosis is key. Most people go 8-10 years from onset to diagnosis. That’s like walking around with a broken leg for 8-10 years and not getting help. #BellLetsTalk
— Corey Hirsch (@CoreyHirsch) January 31, 2018
“I have a good eye for seeing people who are struggling. I’m not afraid to reach out, even if I might be wrong, just to see if they’d like to talk. It’s an important day today,” he said. “The dark places that I’ve been to and seen and all that, it’s something I don’t ever want to get back to. I’m conscious about how I go about my daily business and live my life.”
It may be difficult, but it’s important to seek support, Bertuzzi said.
“Obviously being in the hockey business, I see what is going on and what has happened in the last little while with opioids and depression and all that. The more I am around a lot of the older players and read the books and hear the stories, it seems like it’s a common occurrence in our business,” he said. “I’m hoping if anyone is going through that or is feeling like that, there is always someone there you can speak to. It’s up to us to be those people who are there to help them out.”