Capitalizing on his chants
Bitz (2 goals) is a crowd-pleaser
"Bitz! Bitz! Bitz! We want Bitz! We want Bitz!"
The chant rained down on the unlikely star last night, as Byron Bitz scored twice, his second and third goals of the season, to spark the Bruins in a 6-1 victory over the Panthers. In the last few minutes of the game, the fans wanted Bitz back on the ice, gunning for a hat trick.
"I didn't know what they were saying at first, but I made it out after a while and it was pretty cool; it was amazing," said Bitz, a 6-foot-3-inch rookie right wing who was called up from Providence Jan. 10. "It was a lot of fun. Everyone on the bench was just kind of surprised and having fun with it."
Bitz did get an extra shift or two, one on the power play, but didn't get another scoring chance. It has been a while since the 24-year-old heard a crowd chanting his name.
"A couple of times in college [Cornell]," said Bitz, "but 20,000 people is a lot different than 4,000."
Bitz skates on the working line, sometimes called the fourth line or the checking line, with center Stephane Yelle and left wing Shawn Thornton.
"We have a lot of fun playing together," said Bitz. "Our job is mainly as a checking line; first and foremost you want to be good in our end.
"You look at Stephane Yelle and Shawn Thornton, those guys have been around for a lot of years combined, and that's the way they play - good defensively - so it's easy for me to play with them."
After a bright start on first-period goals from Patrice Bergeron and Mark Stuart, the Bruins sagged, and it was the working line that stepped in to reinvigorate the offense. Bitz's first goal, at 15:53 of the second period, boosted the lead to 3-1, and restored the lively game the Bruins began with.
Bitz was stationed near the left post when Yelle pulled the puck off the sideboards and slung a pass across the zone. Bitz cracked a perfectly timed tip into the top right corner so hard it bounced right back out.
"We were pretty fired up on our line," said Thornton. "Any time you can produce, it's a plus for us. It's been a while."
Bitz came back for more at 3:24 of the third period. Yelle fired a slap shot from just over the blue line, and Bitz, trailing the play, got hold of the long rebound and slammed it into the net.
"The rebound came right to my stick," said Bitz, "and I was able to snap it right in."
Bitz joined the Boston lineup during the team's rash of injuries. His job was to fill a role, but he said that after 10 games he began to feel comfortable.
"I think we did a great job of building as the game went on," said Bitz, "to keep pushing them back and get to the net. We were getting to the net very good, shots were getting through. It was one of those games where finally the puck goes in for us."
"He keeps it simple," Yelle said. "He brings a lot of size to the team, and when he's in front like on his first goal, there's not a lot of guys that can move him."
After Bitz's second goal, Aaron Ward and Michael Ryder added scores to pad the lead. That's when the "We want Bitz!" chants started. They didn't stop until he came over the boards with Patrice Bergeron and P.J. Axelsson on a rearranged power-play unit.
"That's awesome - when's the last time you heard that?" said Thornton. "I got a big kick out of it."
Coach Claude Julien said Bitz only got what he deserved.
"He got rewarded for doing the things we've been preaching," Julien said. "Not only does he bring us size and strength along the boards, he's a guy who, with confidence and experience, he's going to score more goals.
"Right now, he's shown us he belongs in the lineup."
Barbara Matson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.