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Stu Cowan: Paul Byron's return to Canadiens is put on hold

 Paul Byron practised with the team on Friday, Dec. 13, 2019, but is unlikely to play Saturday versus the Red Wings.
Paul Byron practised with the team on Friday, Dec. 13, 2019, but is unlikely to play Saturday versus the Red Wings.

The Canadiens’ annual Christmas visit to the Montreal Children’s Hospital is always a fun event, but it can also be heart-breaking to see so many sick kids.

The one kid who really tore at my heart while covering the Canadiens’ visit on Thursday was a little girl named Mia who looked to be about three years old, was in a wheelchair and hooked up to IVs. She had a blanket wrapped around her and was clutching a little stuffed toy. The sadness in her face made it hard not to cry.

The Canadiens’ Paul Byron sat down beside Mia at a craft table and for the next 20 minutes made a Christmas tree ornament for her while chatting with the little girl and her mom. Mia was too tired to help much in making the ornament, but by the time Byron was done and presented it to her you could see a bit of a smile on her face.

“It’s hard,” Byron admitted afterward. “My daughter, I remember her at three years old. To think back and think that could have been her, she could have been in a wheelchair and not feeling well that day. It is heart-breaking. But these little kids are tough … they’re really tough. A tremendous amount of courage and I know in the families how much passion they have for each other. It really brings perspective into our life.

“We take for granted, I think, our health every day,” Byron added. “So every day that we have it we should be happy for it and enjoy every moment you can with your family.”

Byron’s own health took a hit on Nov. 15 when he suffered a knee injury during a 5-2 win over the Capitals in Washington that required surgery four days later .

As Byron was getting ready to leave the hospital on Thursday, I asked if he might be ready to make the Canadiens’ Western Canada road trip next week.

“I guess we’ll see tomorrow,” he said.

On Friday, Byron practised with his teammates in Brossard for the first time since the surgery and looked pretty good skating on the fourth line with Nate Thompson and Riley Barber. Byron wasn’t available for interviews after practice and the Canadiens called up forward Ryan Poehling from the AHL’s Laval Rocket just after 5 p.m. Friday.

On Saturday morning, coach Claude Julien announced that Byron wouldn’t be in the lineup Saturday night at the Bell Centre against the Detroit Red Wings (7 p.m., SNE, SN360, CITY, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio) and also won’t make next week’s road trip to Western Canada, needing more time to heal properly. Poehling will take Byron’s spot.

Byron got off to a slow start this season with 1-3-4 totals in 19 games before getting injured.

“I thought Pauly was starting to turn the corner there just before the injury,” Julien said. “I know he had a bit of a slow start. He suffered that concussion at the end of last year and trained hard during the course of the summer. He wasn’t playing bad, it just was maybe a bit of a slower start. But he was finding his game there near the time that he got injured. He’s one of those guys that for the most part competes hard. At least if he’s not having his best game it’s not from lack of trying.”

No one will ever question Byron’s work ethic or his courage at 5-foot-9 and 158 pounds, refusing to back down from anyone. It was his refusal to turn down a revenge fight last March with the Florida Panthers’ MacKenzie Weegar — who is 6-foot and 200 pounds — that resulted in Byron suffering a concussion.

Thompson said after practice Friday that it will be “huge” for the Canadiens when they can get a healthy Byron back in the lineup.

“Obviously, his speed and then his experience, leadership … everything,” Thompson said. “He can play at both ends of the rink really well. He’s a key guy for our hockey club and it’s good to have him back.”

Added Brendan Gallagher about Byron: “I’ve said it before… he does so much for us up and down the lineup. It’s hard to replace him. He’s like a Swiss army knife and wherever you put him he makes everyone better. I think seeing him on the ice is exciting for everyone.”

Byron’s injury allowed him to spend some extra time with his family — wife Sarah and their young children, Elianna and Brysen. The fact the Canadiens have only played three road games since his surgery also allowed him to stay close to the team during his recovery period.

“On game days, I’m still kind of at the rink all day, even during the games I have to go in and work out and get treatments,” he said. “I spend as much time as I can with my kids. I love them with all my heart and want them to grow up and be happy.”

At the hospital on Thursday, it was really touching to watch Byron bring some happiness to another little kid.


Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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