Paul Byron bourses Aleo

MONTREAL – It’s not every day you get to speak to 12-year veterans of the NHL, but that was the case for a group of exceptional student-athletes last week.

Paul Byron, who played seven of his 12 NHL seasons in a Montreal uniform, popped by the Bell Centre last Monday to meet 28 young elite hockey players who were being awarded bursaries by the Canadiens and the Aléo Foundation, which strives to elevate young athletes beyond sport and provide them with guidance and resources.

Now serving as a player development consultant for the Canadiens, the 35-year-old former forward took time to answer questions from the young athletes on a variety of topics related to his playing career and being an athlete in general.

In short, his message for the bursary recipients was this: the work never stops.

“Just getting drafted is incredible. But whether you were a first-rounder or a fourth-rounder, it’s the same,” shared Byron, who was selected by the Buffalo Sabres in the sixth round (179th overall) in 2007. “You have to come to camp, work, and show that you’re a player they want. Do something different than someone else, show your skill, your tenacity. Getting drafted is just an invitation to play.”

Celebrating Byron's seven seasons in Montreal

As a waiver wire pickup by the Canadiens in 2015, Byron noted that spots are rarely up for grabs on teams at training camp, with draft picks, free agency and trade acquisitions, and returning players all battling for a limited number of jobs. It’s why he listed perseverance as the number-one quality you’ll need to make it in the business.

“It’s not an easy game. Every level, there are different obstacles you’ll face. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s really hard,” outlined Byron, who scored 98 goals and added 110 assists in 521 career games with Buffalo, the Calgary Flames, and the Habs. “Some days in hockey can be hard. [You have to] find a way.”

The Ottawa native had some kind words to say about some of his former teammates. He named Shea Weber as a model for leadership, telling the students the former captain is the type of person who felt like a best friend after just the first meeting.

“He’s such a good person. When we needed a little push he would give us one, but when things weren’t going well he would bring us together,” recalled Byron of the 16-year NHL veteran. “It was a lot of fun getting to play with him for so many years.”

When asked to identify the best goaltender he’d ever faced in the League, Byron named Habs legend Carey Price without any hesitation.

“I played with him, but when I was with the Flames, we played a game against them. I think we threw 50 shots on him and he stopped it all; he was like a brick wall,” praised Byron of the winningest netminder in Canadiens history. “That was the year he won League MVP. The best player – his focus, his passion... when he was on his game, we would win.”

As for his own play, Byron picked his spectacular breakaway goal in Game 1 of the 2021 first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs as a top memory.

“Even now, people still talk about it. It was the goal that won the first game against the Leafs. It gave us a bit of momentum against them and some belief that we could beat them. It also made for a nice photo,” he quipped.

When asked why Byron decided to take on the role of player development consultant, he told the bursary recipients he just couldn’t imagine himself doing anything else.

“Because I love the game a lot. I have so much experience, I love being here, going to see the games, and working with the young players,” explained Byron, who was appointed to the position in September. “I’m passionate about helping and sharing my experience with them. I was lucky there was a position for me here. I want to continue.”

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