Most people, especially Bruins fans, love an underdog and last season Byron Bitz fit that bill pretty well.
During the 2007-08 campaign, the former Cornell captain (who graduated with a 28-60-88 in 124 games in the ECACHL) played his first professional season in the American Hockey League Bruins. Despite an injury, Bitz impressed the brass in Boston with a 13-14-27 docket in 61 contests.
Last September, however, the big man (6’3, 200-pounds) from the Big Red seemed destined to play out the 2008-09 campaign in Providence. But when he finally got his chance on January 10, 2009, the “Bitsy Cat” made everyone curious. By the time the playoffs came, Bitz was a consistent contributor to Boston’s NHL club.
Fast-forward a few months. No longer an underdog, Bitz comes into the new season looking to stick with the Boston Bruins and dispel any notions of a sophomore slump.
“I think it’s only natural to think ‘Oh I made it,’ but I mean I really haven’t done anything,” said Bitz via cell phone. “I’ve played 35-games or whatever and I love the game and I want to make a career out of this.
“So it’s going to take a lot more than a half a season to establish myself and I think I can be better than I was last year.
“There’s always somebody that wants your job and you want someone’s job and it’s that competitiveness of the sports industry that keeps driving me to be better and keep my role, and keep my spot,” he said.
|Bitz dropped the mitts with Donald Brashear last season. |
Spoken like an Ivy Leaguer who has done his homework. Bitz understands the opportunity he’s been given and he is determined not to waste it.
“As far as I’m concerned…the season has started,” said Bitz. “I think once August 1st hits the season gets going, because you’re doing your workouts.
“You’re keeping your conditioning up and you’re basically doing two-a-days for a month getting ready for camp. So, the summer is pretty much over. There’s no more sitting on the beach and that stuff, it’s all about work now. And the more work you put in the more prepared you are.”
Byron’s words aren’t surprising. His attitude is what has gotten him this far and his work ethic will be what keeps him in big league Black & Gold.
“Getting called up last year, I can’t imagine walking into a better situation in terms of the group of guys and the support group around [the team]. I just can’t imagine it being better,” said the big forward from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. “I mean, I’ve played hockey since I was four or five years old and if someone could have told me then that you can do this for a living, for your life, I would have been jumping around in circles I would have been so happy.
“You try not to forget how lucky you are to be in this game and how fortunate you are to be doing this for a living. Not many people can say that, so that’s another thing that helps keep you grounded and makes you appreciate it.”
Bitz has always credited family and friends for helping to keep him grounded. Brendan Bitz, his dad, is the man most often mentioned by Bryon as a mentor.
“If he would have had half the opportunity I had, I’m sure he would have done something with it,” explained Bitz, suddenly very serious. “He’s a hard working guy. He’s really a people person, people respect him, so just watching him interact and the way he deals with people is just great.
“I couldn’t ask for a better role model. He’s proud of me and we can sit down and talk about hockey for hours because he’s so interested. When he came for that first game and stayed for the Montreal game, I think that was probably one of the top experiences of his life. Just to be able to sit there and watch his son play, it was special to me to be able to have him there.”
This summer, July 17th to be exact, Bitz was very excited to add a very important person to his extraordinary support group – his new wife Christina.
“She’s really grounded, comes from a good family,” said Byron. “She puts me in my place when she needs to.
|Talking to the media. |
“So, that’s probably a good thing,” he added with a laugh.
With the summer drawing to a close, Bitz knows that he will be expected to bring his best to training camp. Last year is, well, last year and Byron’s just fine with that.
“It was nice actually, for a couple of weeks after the season to come home and just kind of come back and think about the ride, from when I got called up here in January and just the whole way through the playoffs,” explained Bitz. “It was exciting to think about some of the moments, but it was disappointing in the way that it ended.
“A lot of people, at home here, are kind of like asking what’s happened [and] I think the expectations were higher so that was kind of tough to talk about that. But you got to go through those disappointments to appreciate the success so I’m hoping this year is a big year.”
So are we.Dyan LeBourdais contributed to this report.