Bowen Byram was very happy to be back in the Lower Mainland this week.
Stepping onto the ice at the Ladner Leisure Centre last Thursday afternoon, the 16-year-old Cranbrook kid has a lot to look forward to.
After debuting as a highly-touted third overall pick in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, playing 11 games with the Giants last season, Byram is eligible to become a permanent part of the team’s roster this year.
“I’m really excited to get going, getting into the process, get into a rhythm and show the evaluating staff what I can do,” Byram told the Townsman on Wednesday night. “I’ll just have to work my hardest and hopefully, I’ll put myself in a position where I can be a full time member of the team.”
After the draft last season, Byram took several steps to begin making the jump to the WHL. Having already left home to play Bantam AAA hockey in Lethbridge two years earlier, the defenceman made a move part way through the 2016-17 season to join the Yale Hockey Academy in Abbotsford.
Being closer to the Giants home arena in nearby Langley, he was able to get a significant taste of major junior hockey.
Although Byram didn’t get any points in his 11 call-up games with Vancouver last season, it was an opportunity that he believes was helpful for this year’s training camp and upcoming season.
“It was a great experience to gain some confidence playing against all their guys,” he said. “I’d say the biggest thing that I gained was learning how to think at that high level and being able to compete with the pace of play that the guys play at.
“It’s a big jump going from midget to [the WHL]. So, just knowing what it’s like will help me a lot during this process this year.”
With Yale, meanwhile, Byram showed his offensive worth and put up 29 points in 20 regular season games and four points in three playoff games while competing in the very competitive CSSHL.
While he spent the majority of the summer in Cranbrook — taking trips to Lethbridge for some additional training and skating — Byram’s biggest developmental boost occurred at a Hockey Canada camp in Calgary in July.
Byram was one of 111 players invited to Team Canada’s Under-17 development camp, a week-long evaluation and training session for the 2017 World U17 Hockey Challenge which will be held in Fort St. John and Dawson Creek from November 5 to 11.
“That was a really great experience,” Byram said. “It was really tough. They worked us hard and pushed us to our limits, but I thought it was a good camp. They taught us not only good skills about hockey to improve your skills, but they worked on improving everybody as a person.”
There will be 66 spots on Team Canada Red, White, and Black available for the fall tournament. During the development camp, Byram played for Team Red alongside Kootenay Ice prospect Peyton Krebs, a forward from Okotoks, Alberta.
For now, however, the focus is on cracking the Vancouver Giants roster with a solid training camp and Byram fully believes that he has taken positive strides since last season.
“I think I can just impress them with my whole game,” Byram said. “I’ve really worked on my defensive game and I’ve also worked on my offensive game, so I’m pretty excited to show them my complete game and [prove] that I can play at a level they’re looking for me to compete at.”
A penalty shot for @BowenByram (White) and he is……. DENIED by Todd Scott! Gray still leads White 4-3 with under six minutes to play!— Vancouver Giants (@WHLGiants) August 25, 2017
The Giants training camp wrapped up on Sunday (Aug. 27) and the team then begins pre-season in Everett, Washington on September 1.
Although the Giants will not make a trip to Cranbrook this season, should Byram make the team, he will play against the Ice at his home arena on December 9.
It will certainly be a night he marks on his calendar.
“Anytime you get to play against a hometown team, if you get to play for them or against them, it’s always a special moment,” he said. “It brings you a little bit closer to home from wherever you are.”