Skipjacks' Byce ready to knock on NHL doors


For a man the Skipjacks called Moses for a while, John Byce's future in the organization is surprisingly bleak.

Byce led the Skipjacks to the promised land of victory last month. After a bruised thigh sidelined him for six games, all of which the team lost, he returned Dec. 11 against the Hershey Bears.

He scored a goal and two assists that night in a 5-4 victory, thereby triggering the Skipjacks' six-game unbeaten streak. Byce had seven goals and five assists during the period.

"Moses," assistant coach Paul Gardner said in jest. "You're a gift from the heavens."

Although Byce leads the team in goals (22) and is second to Mike Boback with 43 points entering tonight's game against Hershey at the Baltimore Arena, he feels his career in the organization is nearing an end. At 25, he no longer is considered an NHL prospect by the parent Washington Capitals.

"I'm pretty sure I won't be back next year," Byce said. "If I get some big numbers this season, it should open some doors, especially with expansion [two more NHL cities] coming. If that doesn't work out, I'll try Europe."

Byce says it is time to make a move. Boston's 11th draft choice in 1985, Byce played four years at the University of Wisconsin. He had three brief NHL experiences, totaling 29 games, with the Bruins before they traded him to the Capitals last February.

"I thought I'd get a chance to prove myself in the NHL with Washington," Byce said. "But after a week or two of training camp this year, I was told I was no longer a prospect."

The Capitals are pleased with Byce's Skipjacks numbers this season, but think he is at the age where he is not likely to improve enough to be a productive NHL player.

"He has been a scorer all his life, and he's doing that for us," Skipjacks coach Barry Trotz said. "He has to continue to establish himself as a good AHL player with the hope he can create interest among other NHL clubs. And, of course, there's expansion. And Europe.

"This is a year for John Byce to open doors."

Tonight's game with be the Skipjacks' 40th, marking their season's midway point. With 22 goals now, Byce says he thinks it is realistic to shoot for a 40- or 50-goal season.

"That should be worth a good contract in Europe," Byce said. "There are a lot of openings over there, at the Division I level and below. I could go there for a year and, if I do well, hope for another shot in the NHL."

Tonight's game also will mark the return of goalie Byron Dafoe, who missed the past 20 games with a sprained ankle. He began the season as the Skipjacks' No. 1 goalie and will reclaim that position, supplanting Mike Parson.

"Byron's strength is his quickness," Trotz said. "He has such good reflexes that he can stop the second and third shots as well as the first. Parson's strength is stopping the first one."

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