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Bigger, Stronger and Better Byron Key to Black Bears Offense

Matt Dewkett

Bigger, stronger, quicker and a year older, Blaine Byron is ready to take on more of the scoring load for a University of Maine team that is looking to climb its way back to the upper echelon of Hockey East.

The junior from Ottawa, Ontario has worked hard over the off-season to become more of a physical force as he enters his third year in arguably the toughest conference in college hockey.

"It was a very good off-season. I got stronger, quicker and added size to hopefully create extra chances," said Byron, a 2013 sixth round selection of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Byron attended the Penguins Development Camp for the third consecutive summer and impressed some of the organization's top brass.

"I thought [camp] went very well. You just try to take in everything you can, be a sponge of information and pick up all the tips you can," explained Byron.

"I was 15 pounds heavier and an inch taller than the previous year. I got approval on all my strength numbers," he added.

The work on and off the ice to improve his playing shape has not gone unnoticed by the Black Bears coaching staff, particularly third year head coach Red Gendron.

"He came in as a true freshman. The biggest thing with kids who do that is they are physically different from other college players who are in their 20s. [The older players] have developed physically just based on the biological nature of male athletes," explained Gendron.

"Blaine Byron is bigger, stronger, and has had the opportunity to train for a few years. That helps with execution. Being able to be stronger to keep offensive plays alive and be faster because you've developed your muscles," Gendron continued.

Although he has worked on his entire body, the lower body has been a focus during training so he can get better quickness and accelerate faster.

"I had a new trainer back home that I worked with six days a week. I just tried to follow the program. Monday and Tuesday were heavy lifting days. We'd work on speed and cardio two days a week. I want that extra jump in my step. Those first three strides are important," commented Byron.

"Bigger engines make vehicles drive faster. If your buttocks and your quads are bigger, you skate faster and more powerfully. That usually translates into more offense," added Gendron.

Byron has always shown flashes of the offensive ability that made Pittsburgh select him in the NHL Draft.

"I think I have pretty good vision, the way I see the ice," said Byron when asked what his best attributes are. "Puck protection, seeing what's in front of you, getting defenders to scramble, and playing well on the half wall," he added.

In addition to the work in the weight room, Byron credited Gendron and assistant coach Ben Guite with teaching him some of the subtleties of the game that have allowed him to improve.

"The biggest thing they've taught me is playing away from the puck and not forcing plays. You don't want to turn the puck over. Find the soft areas and be able to read plays better," said Byron.

"You just try to take in everything you hear. Both of those guys have so much experience in the NHL," he added.

Byron hopes his improvement on and off the ice allows him to help the Black Bears have a better season this winter.

"I just want to help the team get back to the TD Garden. We're going to take it game by game, but we want to win a championship. We want to compete for championships every year and bring the program back to where it belongs," Byron said.

Byron knows he and his teammates have the support of the entire state. That certainly brings pressure with it, but having the backing of an entire state gives the Black Bears added confidence when they take the ice.

"The fans here are wild. I still get goosebumps. They are like a sixth man up there. You always want to play your best at home. They support you no matter what," said the former CCHL Top Prospect Award winner.

Hopefully for Byron and the Alfond Arena faithful, he will be able to translate all the hard work in the offseason into greater success on the ice. It's certainly something his coach sees as a real possibility.

"I think he has the opportunity to make a huge impact." said Gendron.

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Jeff Cox covers college, junior, high school and prep hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.