When talking about players at an under-20 tournament, it is humorous to think of anyone as a “veteran,” but younger players always tend to gravitate to those who have experience. At last year’s World Junior Championship, Byram was one of the new kids looking onto the veterans for a word of advice. Not even 365 days later, the defensemen is now the player being looked up to.
Heading into selection camp, Byram expected that some of the younger players would look to him for advice having experienced it all at last year’s tournament. “I know when I was coming in last year, there were older guys that had been on the team and you definitely lean on them and ask them as many questions as you can to put yourself in the best position.”
From the beginning of camp last year, Byram felt at home. The welcoming and approachable environment of last year’s team heavily contributed to his enjoyment of the tournament. This time around, Byram wants the new recruits to feel as comfortable as he did when he was the rookie. “I definitely think I’m a pretty social guy, I’m easily approachable, that’s what I try to be anyway and I hope younger guys feel comfortable coming and asking me questions or just chatting. That’s definitely something that I want to and do take pride in.”
Although most players who take part in a U20 World Juniors are mostly around the same age, a year makes a sizeable difference when it comes to those referenced as prospects. You can never go wrong asking the veterans or simply being open-minded to the lessons they’re teaching. Doing so can help improve one’s own chances of making the roster, while at the same time, getting the most out of the experience. Bowen Byram knows this as well as anyone, which is why he wants to mentor the new players just like he had it in his first go-around last winter.
Hockey Canada must have noticed Bowen’s personality and social nature, which likely attributed to the roommate he was assigned during selection camp. Shane Wright, the youngest player on Canada’s roster, has gotten to know the Cranbrook native quite well since being paired with him through the first week of action. “He’s a fun guy to be with, he’s a funny guy to be around, and to talk with. He has some good stories as well, and you know, I’m pretty lucky to have him as a roommate.”
Wright and Byram have certainly enjoyed themselves, however, it hasn’t all been fun and games between the two. The “veteran” has offered his fair share of advice while following the philosophies that he approaches camp with. “Probably the biggest thing that I have told him here so far is to enjoy himself and not put too much pressure on himself.” While it may be something Wright has heard hundreds of times, it carries weight when coming from a player who was in the same boat just one year prior.
The newfound friendship between last year’s gold medalist and the rookie sensation forged arguably the nicest moment of training camp so far. “It was actually Bo who told me to hop in the middle and lead the stretch for the boys. I just took his lead and I just went in and led the stretch for everyone,” said Wright. Leading the morning stretch is a sign of respect and acceptance on a team. It’s the small gestures like that which ooze leadership and cement one’s self as a leader.
While Byram seems to be among the most mature of Canada’s invitees, he wasn’t always this way. “You know, when I had Bo at the Hlinka, he was an immature kid,” said Andre Tourigny, Team Canada’s head coach. Byram’s personality and character surely hasn’t changed all too much since that time, but the lefty was not the same player when they met the following year at the 2020 World Juniors Camp. “Still the same personality, a lot of character and all of it. But when I had him last year, (I felt) after his draft year, his first camp in Colorado, and all of it, I felt he was a different kid. I felt he was way more mature, knew how to carry himself. I was really impressed by his progression as a human being and his maturity.”
Having a relationship that stems through three seasons has allowed Byram and coach Tourigny to become quite comfortable with one another. Tourigny jokingly recalled an interaction with Byram during a practice game, summing up their bond. “I was chirping him a little bit, I had fun. I have a good relationship with Bo. ‘You playing left-wing or left D, I’m not sure.'” Tourigny certainly puts a great deal of faith in his defender, and by the looks of things, it’s safe to say that Byram can add a 2021 World Juniors run to his resume. “When Bo is on the ice you know he will give everything he’s got. He works really hard,” Tourigny added.
Andre Tourigny loves to have fun with his players on the ice, which could be the reason he gets along so well with Bowen Byram. When you speak to Byram, it’s very clear that the enjoyment of the game is critically important to him. He continuously stresses the importance of having fun and how that will lead to on-ice success, which is the ultimate goal. He is happiest on the ice when those around him are happy and comfortable. “That’s kind of been my thing throughout my career is just try to make sure that everyone’s having a good time. We play hockey to have fun, that’s kind of been my focus throughout the first couple of days here.”
Byram has been alternate captain for the past two seasons with the Vancouver Giants. Despite clearly taking on a leadership role at selection camp, the last time Byram was a team captain was at the U15 AAA level in the Alberta Elite Hockey League. Doing so in 2015, he captained the Lethbridge Golden Hawks for two seasons, the second of which he led his team the take home the championship. Alongside being victorious, Byram was named the league’s top defensemen while doubling on that with Alberta Hockey Player Of The Year.
If named the captain of Team Canada’s World Juniors roster, Byram would join the likes of fellow blue-liners Kris Letang and Ryan Ellis, who notably wore the “C” at this exact same tournament. As previously stated, going into the tournament, Byram wanted to be a leader for the younger players, however, the captaincy is not on his radar. “I don’t think It’s necessarily a goal, no. I just try to be myself, help out everyone, make sure everyone is comfortable. Younger guys older guys, my buddies, whoever it is, I just try to be easy to talk too, and enjoyable to be around.”
Whether or not the captaincy is something Byram has been aiming for, those are the words you want to hear if you’re Andre Tourigny from your captain right there.
With just a few weeks left until the start of the tournament in Edmonton, Alberta, there is plenty of time on the clock before any decision surrounding Team Canada’s leadership group has to be made official. Nevertheless, sitting just over a week into training camp, Bowen Byram has stepped up to the plate in the shoes of a leader both on and off the ice.