THUNDER BAY – Robert Bortuzzo and the St. Louis Blues are flying high.
The Thunder Bay defenceman, in his fourth season in St. Louis, is enjoying the ride. A true regular, top-six defenceman for the first time in his seven-year National Hockey League stint, the rugged 28-year-old is finding opportunities at both end of the rink, contributing points at a career-high pace and helping clear a path in front of goaltenders Jake Allen and fellow Thunder Bay product Carter Hutton.
It’s all about going with the flow, suggested the 6-foot-4 Bortuzzo.
“Training camp went well and I knew what I wanted to do this year. I’ve done some good things throughout the year to elevate my game,” Bortuzzo said. “I’ve been happy to be in there every night. It’s an exciting time around our team right now. Things are going well.”
The Blues have vaulted themselves into the Stanley Cup contender mix, their 18-8-2 record tying them with Winnipeg (17-7-4) a point behind Nashville (18-7-3) in the Central Division race.
The Tampa Bay Lightning and Los Angeles Kings are the only other teams ahead of them in the overall NHL standings.
It’s great coming to the rink each day in a winning environment, Bortuzzo said.
“We knew going into the year we were going to be a strong team. But you still have to come in and prove it every night. Different teams have different goals and ours is obviously the big one. It’s an exciting time and exciting to be a part of it.”
Bortuzzo is hoping to bang and bruise his way to the coveted Stanley Cup title, ranking second on the Blues with 63 hits, good for 38th overall in the league and 16th among defencemen.
For best-friend Hutton, a former teammate with the Fort William North Stars, it’s just what he and Allen want to see in the defensive end.
“He’s playing dynamite,” Hutton said. “We spent a lot of time this summer working hard together, so I see the amount of work he puts in. It’s paying dividends here. He’s an integral player and a big piece of our team and our locker room.”
Normally a stay-at-home defender, he’s shown a propensity to pinch in on offense in 2017-18, and while he’ll never be mistaken for Bobby Orr or Paul Coffey, he’s happy to be able to contribute from time to time in the opponent’s end, where he’s got a goal and four assists this season in 27 appearances.
“If you can chip in at any point, it’s nice. We’ve got a big group of mobile defencemen. Not everyone’s offensive and not everyone’s defensive. There’s some things guys to better than others. I’m just trying to play solid defensively and if we can chip in here and there, I’m happy to do so.”
Bortuzzo, in his career, has nine goals and 25 assists in 231 NHL games.