Instead of playing for the Heat against the Houston Aeros — a game Abbotsford won 5-3 — Byron made his way to the airport and met the NHL team in Chicago, all in anticipation of playing his first Flames game Friday night (6:30 p.m., Sportsnet West).
“I don’t think I’m as nervous as that first call-up. I feel more calm and relaxed and focused on playing well and helping the team out,” said Byron, who played eight games for the Buffalo Sabres last season. “At the same time, it’s exciting and a great opportunity for me.”
Ever since he came to the Flames along with Chris Butler in the summertime trade which sent Robyn Regehr, Ales Kotalik and a second-round draft choice the other way, Byron has been near the top of the depth chart.
Even when he was sent down to the minors at the end of training camp, there were expectations he would be skating in the NHL soon enough.
That belief, which has been very public, has helped motivate the 22-year-old from Ottawa.
“It’s easier and it’s harder on you at the same time,” said the 5-foot-9, 170-lb. forward. “Having expectations on you is always a little more difficult. In Buffalo, I don’t think anyone expected me to play in NHL games, especially in my second year of pro and being a sixth-round pick. Here, they have high expectations of me — really positive things — and they believe in me and expect big things from me.
“It’s something that keeps me working.”
Byron, who was slated to start Friday’s game playing left wing on a line with fellow rookie Roman Horak and Lee Stempniak, collected three goals, one assist and 26 penalty minutes in nine games this season for the Heat. He also served a three-game suspension for boarding.
That infraction aside (“It was a backchecking play — a two-on-one — and I wanted to finish a check at full speed,” Byron said of it) Byron’s job with the Flames is to add enthusiasm to the squad, along with defenceman T.J. Brodie, who was also called up and suited up to face the Blackhawks.
“Energy, emotion … Come in and be the good players they are,” Flames head coach Brent Sutter said of his expectations of the young players. “They’re here because they’re playing well in Abby, and we can use all that. We can use all the energy we can get.”
Talk about a tough task for the first NHL games of the season for the pair, as well as for centre Mikael Backlund, who returned from injury to make his season debut.
The Blackhawks have struggled of late but make for a strong opponent.
“They’ve got to get used to that — it’s the way it is,” Sutter said. “We’re not putting in young kids that can’t play. We feel very good about where they’re at right now. Troy said Brodes and Byron have been playing well, so we’re comfortable playing them.
“I don’t mind playing kids at all. It’s exciting.”
At least it’s not a case of a bunch of players making their NHL debut together.
Brodie skated in three Flames games to start last season, while Byron’s mid-season callup included his first NHL goal in his hometown against the Ottawa Senators.
So even that milestone is out of the way, although he never did get the puck as a souvenir.
“I think the Sabres still have it,” Byron added. “They’re supposed to make me a plaque or something.”
On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak