With Marian Gaborik, Sean Avery and Chris Higgins all sidelined for tonight’s game against the Minnesota Wild, the New York Rangers have recalled left wing Dane Byers from the Hartford Wolf Pack. For Byers — who’s 2008-2009 regular season ended one year ago tomorrow when he tore his ACL in a collision with then-teammate Tommy Pyatt — it’ll be only his second NHL game and first since he made his debut on February 5th, 2008.
The 23-year old Saskatchewan native got off to a slow start for the Wolf Pack this season, earning only a single assist in his first six games. But he came alive last weekend, scoring twice and adding two assists in a trio of games while playing on Hartford’s top line.
Dismissed as nothing more than a “goon” by many Rangers fans, Byers is far from it. While his skating and stickhandling will never earn him awards, the tough, physical forward has a real knack for for scoring goals from right in front of the net, whether it be on rebounds or deflections. He’ll also use his 6′3″ 204-pound frame to punish opponents along the boards and win battles in the corners. And yes, he’ll drop the gloves when needed, though neither of his two scraps of the season — both against Providence’s Adam McQuaid in the Pack’s second game of the season — were up to his past standards.
Without a doubt the incident which earned Byers his “goon” status was a “fight” with Minnesota’s Benoit Pouliot while the pair were playing in the AHL in March 2008. With 11.3 seconds remaining in a 1-0 game between the Houstan Aeros — Minnesota’s farm club — and the visitng Pack, a scrum broke out after Byers shoved Houston goaltender Barry Brust in retaliation for a cross-check the netminder had delivered to his back. In the ensuing mayhem, Pouliot, the fourth overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, ended up paired off in a complete mismatch with a frustrated Byers. While Pouliot threw the first — gloved — punch, he wasn’t prepared for what came next, which was an uppercut that loosened two of his teeth and bloodied his mouth. The Aeros forward quickly turtled, but Byers, not knowing his first blow had caused injury, continued unbowed, ripping Pouliot’s helmet off and throwing punches at the back of his head. Unable to rouse Pouliot from his protective position, Byers pulled him up by the back of the sweater one last time before shoving him down — face first — into the ice.
Pouliot, who admitted throwing the first punch and harbored no ill-will towards Byers, was called up to Minnesota a week later, and stayed there through the remainder of the season. The two will face each other on the ice for the first time tonight in Minnesota.
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