Syracuse Crunch's Byron Froese happy that return to health sets up revenge vs. Toronto

Author: Lindsay Kramer, Syracuse.com
Date: May 3, 2017

Syracuse, N.Y. -- The score that sent the Syracuse Crunch to the North Division finals could accurately be labeled a veteran's goal.

It was buried into an open left side of the net against St. John's in overtime of Game 4 of their series on Friday by Gabriel Dumont, but the drama was set up by a quick, savvy read from linemate Byron Froese.

Froese saw that IceCaps goalie Charlie Lindgren was down and scrambling, and had his stick flat on the ice. That position made it hard for him to control a rebound, and Froese knew Dumont had to be lurking nearby.

Froese wrapped a bid from the side of the net out front. It really wasn't much of an offering, low and way off-target. But because Lindgren couldn't react to simply flick away the biscuit, it floated out to Dumont. Dumont made easy work of the opportunity to put an end to the series right then and there.

The quick analysis and implementation made it the textbook definition of an experienced player's play.

Except that Froese has a different characterization of his effort.

"Call it a fortunate goal,'' he said earlier this week.

Perhaps, but when you are as good and timely as Froese seems to be, those lucky goals tend to follow you around.

The center was the man in the right spot again in Game 3 on Wednesday, when his wicked shot from the right circle hit the back of the net for the difference in a 3-2 Syracuse win. And in a win over Utica in the final game of the regular season that lifted Syracuse to the North Division title, Froese was in the middle of everything with three assists.

In six regular season games with the Crunch since he was acquired from the Toronto in a trade-deadline deal, Froese, 26, was a veteran impact player with three goals and four helpers.

"We've got a lot of guys here. But I want to (make big plays), definitely. I want to be that guy that comes down for the big play,'' he said. "But not only (offensively). You've got to make big plays defensively too. There's a lot of chances going the other way. So if you make big plays that way, it's just as important.''

But it takes more than talent to make a difference. Even the best players need an opportunity. And that's where the frustration in Froese's transition came into play.

Froese was injured when the Lightning acquired him, an ailment that Tampa Bay was aware of but that was considered short-term. That kept him out of the Crunch lineup for a few games.

He then incurred another undisclosed injury playing against his former team on March 26. That kept him sidelined until the regular-season finale against the Comets on April 15.

"I couldn't just step in and play right away. I was hurt. So when you come to a new team, you want to make an impact right away. So being out for two, two-and-a-half weeks when you get here, it just takes a little more time to get used to the guys, used to the locker room and to let it all soak in,'' he said.

"It's a good group of guys in here. So the transition, it makes it that much easier. I think for me the hardest part was being hurt, missing all the time that I did. I kind of got away from my game a little bit of getting to the net, being a big body at the net, being heavy on the puck down low with poise. And I think that's starting to creep back into my game now, and it's showing.''

Froese has shown a nose for traffic, but he's a bigger threat a little farther away from the net. His game sense and laser shot brings the Crunch a much-needed option along the half-wall, especially on power plays.

"I'm kind of running with it (anchoring in that spot) this year. I haven't done it since probably my last year junior when I played in Red Deer,'' he said. "That was my spot. I was very successful in it there. But starting this year with the Marlies, having been up the whole year with Toronto (the Maple Leafs) the year before I didn't really (play) power play there.

"So, when I got down with the Marlies they didn't really know where to put me. They had a lot of skilled guys over there. So I started on the net front, and was more of a net-front tipper, rebound kind of guy. And then once they had a bunch of injuries I got put there and kind of never looked back and took advantage of it. So, it's something I've done in the past and I definitely enjoy being there and want to be there. I think the more I play it the more poise I have in that position. It's not just shots every time. I can catch a puck and make plays. So I definitely feel more comfortable with it.''

It's a very eager Crunch roster that will host Toronto in Game 1 of the best-of-7 series on Friday, but no one is watching the clock as much as Froese. Sure, he has some pleasant memories from his time with the team and maintains friendships with his buddies from the locker room.

But the most recent memories are the freshest, and when it comes to the Marlies those aren't good.

That March 26 contest in Toronto during which Froese got hurt was a testy affair, a 4-0 Marlies win that turned very chippy late.

It was the type of afternoon that can turn allegiances very quickly.

"The last game that I played against them comes to mind. We were in Toronto. It was a one-goal game for most of the game and then it ended up being a bit of a blowout,'' Froese said. "It got a little nasty there, too. So I think it's time to answer back to that. I'm looking forward to getting back out there against them.

"It's just added motivation, I think, playing against a bunch of friends over there. But they'll be enemies for this series. It's just going to be exciting. It's good to things are going well for them, but now it's our turn.''

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