Bruins rookie Byron Bitz will be the first to admit, he’s a quiet presence in the locker room.
“I’ve never really been a vocal guy,” he said. “Leadership comes in odd ways sometimes.
“Sometimes it’s just [about] going out and competing hard.”
The 6’3’’ forward from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, has been in the NHL with the Bruins since January 10th. He was called up from the Providence Bruins of the AHL, where he had put up 3-7-10 totals in 37 AHL games and the big winger made an immediate impact when he recorded an assist in his first NHL game.
“What we learn down in Providence is pretty much the same as up here,” explained Bitz of the P-Bruins systems. “So being down there for a year and half has really helped me.”
In a competitive environment where playing time is not a given, even for the undisputed stars, Bitz knows his strengths.
“I’m not going to come in here and dangle guys and score goals,” he said.
|Bitz on his first day in the NHL. |
He explained, however, that there are many “little” things that he can do to help the team.
“Doing the little things is going to help me earn my ice time and stay up here,” said Bitz. “Getting the puck out of my own end or making sure I get it deep in their end and be strong on it, those are the little things I can do to stay around.”
At 24, he realizes that he has an incredible opportunity while up with the Black & Gold and he tries to keep that good fortune in mind.
“My dad came from a family that grew up on a farm,” said the Cornell graduate. “They never really had a lot of money, so he didn’t get the opportunities that I was given.”
Bitz said his father has been a big influence.
“He gave me the opportunity to play,” said the rookie. “Basically he just said, ‘When I was growing up those opportunities just weren’t there for me.’
“That kind of stuck with me -- to really take advantage of the opportunities you get and you have to run with them.”
Bitz’s effort has not gone unnoticed.
“We have liked him a lot since training camp,” Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said in a recent press conference. “Since he has been here he has been extremely strong against the boards, using his body to protect pucks.
“He does all the little things well.”
Bitz did not have to look hard for role models on the team and he quickly found a support system in his linemate, Shawn Thornton
Said Bitz of Thornton, “He’s just...it’s hard to explain. He’s just been so friendly to me, inviting me out to hang out with the guys. He just made me feel like a part of the team as well as a lot of the other guys.”
It was Thornton who took Bitz under his wing and was the first to sing his praises after Bitz dropped gloves for his first NHL fight on January 27th versus one of the league’s top bruisers – Washington Capitals winger Donald Brashear.
|Bitz vs. Brashear |
“[The fight] shows about his character,” Thornton said. “I know the guys love having him on the team.
“I can’t say enough about that kid.”
Like many young players in the Bruins system, the immediate future for rookies is unclear and demotions and recalls are part of any successful organization.
However, Bitz is determined to do whatever is deemed necessary by the club.
“It’s just part of the game,” said Bitz. “If they call me in and tell me that I’m sent down, you can’t hang your head about it.”
“If that day does come, I just want to know that I did my best up here, and hopefully get another crack.”
For now, Bitz will continue to learn, taking extensive video lessons with the coaching staff, and will follow the leadership of others.
“If I can follow them and be a follower, and follow their leadership, chip in, and help the team, then I’m doing my job,” Bitz noted.
Most certainly, actions speak louder than words; apparently Byron Bitz is quite audible after all.