This weekend's homestand against the Lake Erie Monsters went just as planned for the Abbotsford Heat … kind of.
After being spanked by the Texas Stars 9-3 last Sunday, 'response' was the word of the week for the young squad and they delivered.
And as fitting as it was that the Monsters rolled into town just days before Halloween, there was nothing scary about the Heat's assertive 4-2 victory.
Sent down from the Flames, frontline players like Ben Street, Blair Jones and Derek Smith were the biggest difference makers. Street gave the fans his welcome back moment when he opened the scoring in the first period. In the second frame, the Heat took hold of the game after goals from Carter Bancks and Corban Knight. Chad Billins also collected a power play marker in the third to cap off a dominating performance.
Yet, what goes up must come down as the Heat didn't come out with the same force as the previous night.
On Saturday evening the Heat fell to the Monsters 3-1 as Mark Olver and former-Heat grinder Guillaume Desbiens combined for five points.
Heat rookie Knight potted his second goal in as many nights in the losing effort.
A NEW MAN
It used to be a common sight seeing an ornery Paul Byron lose his temper and take a slashing or roughing penalty. It was just part of the package when he stepped on the ice. His ill-tempered style, at times, fueled the team. It set the tempo and it set the mood of the game.
Now, like cheese, wine or Pavel Datsyuk, he's gotten better with time. The ugly penalties, the over-the-top aggressiveness, the loss of composure - it's all been toned down. Not because he's lost his edge or changed his style, but because he's matured off the ice as well as on it.
"It's always easy to get frustrated out there," Byron explained. "Obviously I've had some success over my career, but when things don't go your way it's tough to not get frustrated. I've really worked hard to stay calm and cool and the bounces seem to be going better that way."
Have they ever.
In just nine games in the early season, the diminutive Ottawa product has put up a goal and six assists. As for the disciplinary side of his game: just four penalty minutes.
And it's not necessarily Paul himself that's the reason for the dramatic change, it's a certain someone off the ice: his new baby daughter.
"Now it's not about you and your career. You've got to look out for your family and what's best for them.
"Obviously playing in Abbotsford is a little tough. I'm not there for my family as much [due to travel]. So I want to make sure that she's okay out here and I think that's made me a better person. It's made me a better player on the ice because I went from being a boy to a man now."
It's a transformation that Heat head coach Troy G. Ward has been witness to over the last year or so. He's made note of Paul's on and off-ice maturity and he's glad his "pace horse" has decided to take a calmer approach to the game.
"Paulie's always been like a little raft on the ocean. He was really high on the waves then he was really low, then really high, then really low. His emotions swung so high during the games that he got really mad and then he got frustrated, then he got angry, then he got calm. It just went through a swing of things.
"So what Paul has done is he's got some balance to him. He's matured off the ice. He's added to his family. As he's done this, he's slowed down and with that he's been more consistent … He doesn't have those highs and lows. Remember a couple of years ago when we first got him, and even last year, he'd snap and take stupid penalties for killing guys? You'd think, 'why is he doing that? He's one of our better players.'"
On the ice, his responsibilities remain the same. Away from the rink, however, Paul has reassessed his priorities.
"I think it's put it into perspective," said Ward of Byron's new addition to his family.
"I think he realizes the value of an NHL deal, the value of being an honest player. All those things have come into focus because as that transpires in your life, you realize that what I do here and what I display at night affects my kid at home and my family in how we're going to live."
Now in his third season with the Abbotsford Heat, Byron has made a lasting impression with his teammates and fans, but more than anyone, he's made an impression with his coach.
"He's allowed me to grow as a coach," Ward reflected, "because I'm coaching an athlete that has some special qualities, but yet they've needed some tweaking. And these qualities we've tweaked have been more off-ice things than on-ice. Through time, as he's tweaked them, it's brought more balance to his game.
"So he's like any player in a coach's mind: a challenge. You have to adjust to the player. He's taught me a lot about the competitive athlete at this level where regardless of his size, he competes. Regardless of the size he's going against, he competes. And that's a special skill."
The rookie blueliner is "going to be a while" according to the Heat bench boss. Sieloff has been sidelined with a lower body injury.
Still, the loss of Sieloff has been an impactful one for Ward.
"We miss the 19-year-old. He's the youngest D in the league and we miss him because he's physical and he's honest. It's like playing against a 32-year-old. He's so mature in his approach to the game. He knows his role. He gets it. This kid gets it."
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