He came out of nowhere. He was a mystery man that no one knew about, on the Canucks roster, but kept out of sight. Injuries prevented him from playing, but now he has returned, more than capable of doing anything. Three games and he already has three points and is playing with the Canucks’ top line. Who is this guy?
Byron Bitz is a 27-year old from Saskatoon. He started out in the BCHL, where he was awarded Rookie of the Year honours playing with the Nanaimo Clippers. From there he was drafted 107th overall by the Boston Bruins in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. He did not play for them right away, instead playing college hockey with Cornell Big Red for four years. After his stint there he arrived at the Bruins organization, playing with their AHL team, the Providence Bruins for one season before starting an 80-game career with the bears from Beantown.
Bitz was traded toFlorida and played seven games for them before dealing with numerous injuries to his hip and abdomen. He underwent four surgeries and a long rehabilitation process.
“My career is in the garbage and I am in the process of trying to pull it out of there,” Bitz told the Vancouver Sun.
He was acquired by the Canucks on July 25, 2011, and was absent from training camp because of his injuries. However, after he recovered, Bitz spent one month with the Canucks’ AHL team, the Chicago Wolves, and played ten games for them before being called up by the Canucks to replace Chris Higgins.
Three games. Already he is a favourite among fans and a possible lifesaver for the Canucks. He barely even made it to his first game in Denver, Colorado because of weather conditions, but he made his presence felt. Bitz played 8:32 and recorded a shot, a takeaway, a blocked shot, a fight and two hits. Then, as Alain Vigneault continued to juggle his lines to create scoring chances, Bitz was placed on the top line with the Sedins for his second game with the Canucks against Nashville.
In Bitz’s first NHL game in 2009, he assisted on the Bruins’ lone goal in a 5-1 loss to Carolina. Now, three years later, he has similarly contributed to scoring for the Canucks, getting both a goal and an assist in his second game with them. His two points were 23 seconds apart and his goal was his first since March 20, 2010, almost two years ago. It seems that Bitz and the Sedins have found some chemistry, as he collaborated with them again in his third game as a Canuck, assisting on a goal by Henrik Sedin.
“He’s been extremely good for us,” Henrik told Canucks.com. “We played with Burr for so long and I think as a line, both me and Danny and Burr, I think if you play a lot of hockey together maybe once and while you get a little… not lazy… but you get used to playing with each other and maybe you don’t have the drive or feel that chemistry all the time. It’s good to get some change and Byron has played great for us.
Alex Burrows, who has been bumped down to the second line with Ryan Kesler and David Booth agrees.
“Bitzy was great with the twins and I’m really happy for him, two big points there on two big goals for our team and as long as we win games, that’s all that matters,” he told Canucks.com after the win in Nashville.
Bitz’s arrival has also impacted the way Kesler plays, as Vigneault moved Burrows down to play with Kesler so Bitz could play on the top line. Earlier in the season, still recovering from an injury, Kesler did not look like the player he was last year at all. However, he has been on a goal streak lately and has found success playing on a line with Burrows, an extremely versatile player who exemplifies the skills of everyone he plays with, from the Sedins, to Kesler to Max Lapierre.
As well, Bitz could be the big, gritty forward the Canucks have been looking for, as he has both the size and the skill, and has shown his abilities to fight and to score.
“He’s been good,” Alex Edler told Canucks.com of his new teammate. “He’s big and strong, it’s not easy to bump him off the puck so he’s good for us and he’s just going to get better.”
During Friday’s practice, as Kesler took a maintenance day, Bitz was seen practicing on the top powerplay unit with the Sedins. However, he is just happy to be here and is focusing on getting his hockey career back and on improving his game.
“To play with Danny and Hank and Mase, those guys are easy to play with,” Bitz told the Vancouver Sun. “Even sitting in the room between periods they are humble guys and make it easy to talk to them about stuff I should be doing differently and just reading off them… The most special part is the way everyone treats me here. Guys are genuinely happy for me, so that’s big too.”
Just keep doing what you’re doing Bitz, and more people than just your teammates will be happy.