Canucks' Bitz just happy to be healthy

Byron Bitz of the Vancouver Canucks dives after the puck during the first period on Feb. 9, 2012 at...

Byron Bitz of the Vancouver Canucks dives after the puck during the first period on Feb. 9, 2012 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. (Hannah Foslien/Getty Images/AFP)

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:51 PM ET

A goal, two assists and a fight all wrapped into three games.

To Byron Bitz, it’s just payback to an organization that not only had faith he could recover from what feels like a lifetime under the knife but helped him get healthy again.

The 27-year-old from Saskatoon had already undergone four surgical procedures as a pro hockey player before the Vancouver Canucks signed the free agent to a two-way deal in July.

That’s six surgeries counting the back and sports hernia injuries he previously had repaired while playing for Cornell University.

“Any team I talked to in the summer had a lot of questions and concerns — am I gonna be physically able to play again?” Bitz said of his unrestricted free agent status after the Florida Panthers chose not to tender him a qualifying offer.

“There wasn’t a whole lot of interest.”

Getting medically cleared in Vancouver, the Canucks offered the 6-foot-5, 215-pounder a contract in the hopes he might add some size to a team that got pushed around in the Stanley Cup final.

If only it was that easy. Instead, the injury nightmare continued. His history came back to haunt him again.

Showing promise after the Boston Bruins traded him to the Panthers during the 2009-10 season, he would face the toughest year of his career the following campaign.

He didn’t play a single game. Instead, he dealt with hernia surgery in October, then complicated hip and groin surgeries in January and March.

“I was pretty frustrated,” said Bitz, who currently finds himself playing with two of the most talented forwards in the league on a line with Daniel and Henrik Sedin. “The season went from being out for six weeks in October to being February, March, and going in for a major hip operation. I was pretty down and pretty out.

“To be able to be at this point now looking back where I was a year ago, it’s amazing.”

Especially considering the rocky start he had to this season as well.

With hopes of jump-starting his NHL career, it was back to the operating table for another hernia repair after re-injuring his troublesome groin in August while preparing for training camp.

“If the Canucks hadn’t stuck with me ... They could have easily said you’ve had so many surgeries, it’s kind of a lost cause. They could have easily said that and I wouldn’t have blamed them,” Bitz said.

“But the training staff and (GM) Mike Gillis — every time I’d see Mike, he’d say, ‘We’re gonna figure this out. We’re gonna get you better. There’s got to be an answer.’

“They did find an answer and I’m playing again.”

He’s playing pretty well, too, sliding into Alex Burrows’ regular slot as head coach Alain Vigneault sought a spark for the twins when their performance dipped a little recently.

“He’s big, he’s strong on the puck, he can shoot the puck, does a great job in front,” Henrik Sedin said of his new linemate. “He can make those plays that you really need out of a guy like that, those three-foot passes where he keeps his head up.

“You saw it (Thursday) night on my goal.”

Not just a big body, Bitz has shown some skill to go with his size. And Vigneault said the line will stay together as long as the unit is playing well.

Vigneault stopped short of suggesting Bitz has been a surprising contributor offensively, but even Bitz wasn’t sure what he would accomplish after just 10 games with the Chicago Wolves in the AHL this season.

“I didn’t really know what to expect, to be honest with you. I was feeling good. I’m just going out and playing and not thinking too much,” he said.

“They’re easy to play with and easy to read off of. I’m having fun — that’s the main thing.”

Beside being healthy, that is.

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNMacfarlane


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