BOSTON — If I was going to pick a designated driver out of the Boston Bruins’ dressing room, it’d be Byron Bitz.
I don’t have kids, but if I did, Bitz would be my choice among black-and-gold-wearing hockey players to babysit. He’d also be the one I’d want to tab for some business advice — and not just because of his business degree from Cornell.
You see, even in the best opportunity possible to freelance a little bit and greedily try to pad his stats, Bitz is responsible. He proved it tonight during the closing seconds of the Bruins’ 6-1 rout of the Florida Panthers at TD Banknorth Garden.
One goal shy of a hat trick, Bitz jumped over the boards with less than 30 seconds to go — much to the glee of the Garden faithful, who’d been chanting his name for a couple minutes. The puck went deep into the Florida zone and some fans probably had their hats in hand at the ready. But defenseman Andrew Ference joined the attack and left the right point vacant. Bitz filled his role, staying back at the blue line to make sure there was no chance for Florida to trim its final margin of defeat.
“You could go in but then what if they get a 2-on-1 the other way and you’re not in position? I’d have felt pretty bad about that, letting (goaltender Tim Thomas) down. I mean it would’ve been nice if it worked out, but it’s not that big a deal,” Bitz said after the game.
Byron, it was 6-1! What if there was a 2-on-1? Come on, man. Sports is entertainment; you’re in the entertainment business. Give the people what they want.
But seriously, Bitz’s decision-making in the closing seconds finished off a night during which he showed a multitude of reasons why he’s established himself as an NHL regular in just his second season as a pro. Both of his goals came from his going to the net — once to tip home a Stephane Yelle pass and the second time to smack in a rebound of a Yelle shoot-in. The so-called “fourth line” — which includes Shawn Thornton — finished with five points and a plus-6 rating
“I think our line’s all about hard work,” he said. “Everything we do, we’re giving it our all. We’re probably not going to have 3-on-2, tic-tac-toe plays. We want to get it on the net, crash the net and finish off rebounds that we get there.”
In 37 games with Providence (AHL) before his call-up, Bitz scored just three goals. He has now matched that total in his first 20 games at the game’s highest level. He admitted tonight that he got off to a slow start with the P-Bruins partly because he was cast in a different role this season, with less power-play time and more checking shifts.
“Numbers to me are a little bit irrelevant,” said Bitz, who totaled 13 goals in 61 games as a first-year pro last winter. “I mean, you want to get numbers but … I felt I was playing well down there. I was getting chances and I was playing good. I wish that I had scored more there, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.”
Just figure that Bitz was saving all his scoring for his shot at the big time. But don’t expect that he’ll ever go chasing the glory at the expense of being responsible.