Finally, after 119 days, the National Hockey League lockout of 2012-13 had ended.
And finally, after almost 365 days since his last NHL game, Paul Byron had drawn into the lineup.
So, of course, what is destined to happen after that long wait?
The speedy 24-year-old centreman, playing on a line with Jarome Iginla and Curtis Glencross, absorbs a slash and breaks his left hand — on his fourth shift in.
Byron underwent surgery to repair it and had pins put in — only to find out two weeks later that they weren’t put in properly and had to redo the entire procedure.
But wait, it gets better.
“And while that happened, they put one of the pins through a tendon,” Byron was saying following Day 1 of the Flames on-ice sessions of training camp. “So, after everything was done correctly, it was a little bit of a longer process because of all the swelling in my hand.
“Altogether, it was probably eight or nine weeks. It felt like a really, really long time.”
And even longer because of what was happening in Calgary during the span of those eight to nine weeks.
When the Flames started spiralling toward a fourth consecutive season without playoffs, trades began happening, changes were visible, and — most notably for Byron — opportunities were to be had.
In the end, the Ottawa native who was part of a trade that sent Robyn Regehr to the Buffalo Sabres in 2011, collected 15 points in 38 games for Abbotsford last season and was summoned for three of the Flames’ final four games of the season and picked up an assist.
“(The healing process) was really frustrating,” said Byron, who signed a one-year (two-way) deal in the off-season. “But I’m in camp now and I’m going to seize this opportunity.”
Also seizing the current opportunity of a fresh slate that is the 2013-14 campaign is Lance Bouma.
Bouma was in the same position as Byron, a promising fellow centreman who blew out his knee and was forced to sit out for the duration last season.
His 2012-13 season lasted three American Hockey League games with the Heat in October before missing a check against one of the Chicago Wolves. He underwent two surgeries to repair his medial-collateral and anterior-cruciate ligaments.
“By the end of the season, I was pretty sure I was ready to play,” said the 23-year-old Provost, Alta., native who, like Byron, signed a one-year (two way) contract in the off-season. “So it was good to have a full summer of training and now I’m here and I feel better than I have in a long time.
“Right now, there are no problems at all and it feels fine.”
And, for that, he can give partial thanks to his longtime strength and conditioning coach Ian Gallagher who trained him when he was with the Vancouver Giants. He was pushed along with former Giants like Milan Lucic (Boston Bruins), Brendan Gallagher (Montreal Canadiens) and Flames’ prospect Brett Kulak.
There’s also less of him, too.
Bouma reports that he weighed in at 210, having shed a few pounds from his six-foot-one frame and has a lower body fat percentage.
“I feel quicker, I feel fresh, I’m ready to go,” he said. “I don’t know what exactly I did.”
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