Byron Bitz was drafted by the Bruins back in 2003 (4th round, 107th overall), but it would be another four years before he made his professional debut. The Saskatchewan native finished a strong college career at Cornell University as captain of his team last spring, and signed a contract with the Bruins shortly thereafter.
He began his pro career with the Providence Bruins last fall, and like any rookie, there have been growing pains. Over the course of the season, however, Bitz’s continued improvement has earned him a more prominent role on the P Bruins offense. He’s evolved into a strong physical presence, and been able to chip in on offense as well.
“Here’s a guy who in developmental camp we really thought was going to struggle this year, and you know, for the most part, the first half he really did,” said P Bruins Head Coach Scott Gordon. “What he’s been able to do in the last two months of the season is tremendous. He’s been a workhorse. He’s starting to play a power forward game. He’s making the most of his offensive opportunities. He’s got a great release on his shot. From a hockey sense standpoint, where he is now from the start of the year is night and day.”
Hockey’s Future caught up with Bitz at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, RI, following the close of the 2007-08 regular season.p>
HF: As a rookie coming in here, there can be a lot to adjust to — guys spend a lot of time getting acclimated to the pro game, learning the expectations. Do you think there was a point in the season where you felt things had clicked for you?
BB: Yeah definitely. I’d been injured a little bit, so my season has kind of been broken up into parts, but I think over the last month or so, I’ve really gotten my confidence back. I’m starting to figure out the game a little bit and obviously playing a lot more than college. It’s really started to click over the last month.
HF: How do you make the adjustment to playing twice as many games?
BB: Yeah, in college you play Friday and Saturday night, basically 29 games. It’s not a whole lot of games so you’re pretty pumped up and ready to go when it comes to game time. Here I think you’ve still got to get ready to play, but you’ve got to keep it on a little more even keel throughout the season. Try not to get too high or too low. That was definitely a big adjustment.
HF: It must be nice to be able to focus on your hockey career now though, not have to worry about schoolwork.
BB: Yeah definitely, it’s nice to just come to the rink and that’s all you have to do all day. You don’t have to worry about class or study or any of that stuff.
HF: That’s got to be a tough balance, keeping up with schoolwork when you’re playing hockey. How do you do that?
BB: I think you learn. My first year there I was kind of overwhelmed with all the practices and classes. You don’t really know how to manage your time. I think as you go on in your four years, by the end you’ve learned kind of how to manage your time a little bit better and you make sure you get all your work done.
HF: Cornell has a strong hockey program, maybe a little bit different style than here, but what do you think you learned there that helped prepare you to play pro?
BB: I think just the defensive zone aspect of the game. At school it’s something we stressed — take care of your own end first. We played a pretty rigid system at school. You learn to play in a system — you’re not just skating around out there freewheeling it. I think learning to play in a system you’re better able to adjust when you come here, even though it is different.
HF: It seems like there’s a good group of guys in here this season- – everyone’s real close knit, basically been on the same page since day one. What impact has the coaching staff and your teammates had on you personally?
BB: The coaches have been great and they always give you pointers and if you’ve got stuff you need to work on, they’ll help you with that stuff. The guys have been awesome. It’s so much fun to play with a group of guys that is as close as this group is. Everyone enjoys being around each other and it’s just a good group to be around.
HF: As a big guy, fans expect a physical player — which you have brought. Do you enjoy playing that style of game?
BB: Yeah I do. When you’re my size you really have to use that to your advantage. I’m lucky to be 6’4 220 lbs — you’ve really got to use that, you don’t want to take it for granted. You definitely use it to your advantage out there, pushing guys around and being strong on the puck.
HF: We’ve seen your role grow since the beginning of the season, and you look a lot more confident out there. What do you think you need to do so that next season Boston says ‘hey we need to give this kid a shot’?
BB: I think just keep going the way I’m going. Hopefully stay injury-free, I think is the biggest thing, and just keep gaining confidence. Hopefully we’ll have a long run here in the playoffs and just keep everything going, keep the ball rolling and keep getting better all the time.