NEW YORK – Byron Froese had just put together the first multi-point game of his still young National Hockey League career, but lips that showed the battle scars of a lengthy road to even get to that level were in no mood to form a smile.
The Toronto Maple Leafs forward tallied two assists at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, but it was ultimately in a losing effort; the Rangers forged ahead on a late goal to steal a victory.
There was no posed photo with the pucks, no crowd of reporters and certainly no phony smile.
“It’s good to get the points, but it doesn’t matter if the team doesn’t get two points,” Froese told ECHL.com from the visiting locker room after the game.
“That’s all I’m worried about here. It’s unfortunate to give up that goal in the last minute.”
There is, of course, a brighter story in all of this. Froese was once a big prospect on his path to the pros – he played for Team Canada in the 2009 World Junior Championships, posting seven points in six games and was drafted in the fourth round later that year – but seemed to languish in the Chicago Blackhawks organization upon signing a three-year, entry-level deal prior to the start of the 2011-12 season.
He went back and forth between the Blackhawks’ top two affiliates — AHL Rockford and ECHL Toledo — in his first two years with the organization, and then spent the third and final campaign with both the IceHogs and ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones, who he helped lead to a Kelly Cup Finals appearance in 2013-14.
But still, Froese couldn’t find his scoring touch in the American Hockey League until just last season. After potting just four goals in 94 games at the highest level of the minors, the 24-year-old agreed to an ECHL contract with the Cyclones, and posted an incredible 8-16-24 line in just 17 games.
That kind of performance first attracted interest from the San Antonio Rampage and then the Toronto Marlies, and it was with the latter for whom he’d finally flourish.
“There’s a lot of good guys in that league that put up that amount of points and still don’t get that opportunity,” he said.
“For me to get that opportunity when I got called up to (AHL) Toronto and hop onto the first and second line to be an offensive guy, that was huge for me. It definitely helped with my confidence.”
Froese was nearly a point-per-game player in the AHL last season – he finished with 18 goals and 24 assists in 46 appearances – and opened up this year with three goals in four games, earning him the first NHL call-up of his career.
“Opportunity is everything for me, and I’d been waiting for that for a while,” he said. “I got it when I came to the Marlies last year, but once you get that opportunity, you’ve got to take advantage of it. That’s what I’ve done. My work ethic kind of takes over and drives my game.”
Ultimately, Froese played in parts of four ECHL seasons, appearing in 83 regular season games and 29 postseason contests.
“It’s always tough, you never want to have that on your resume,” he said. “But when you’re stuck in that situation, the only thing that’s going to get you out is hard work and trying to get noticed…now, who wouldn’t want to play in Toronto? It’s a great city, it’s a great team and Original Six (franchise). It’s a privilege to put on this jersey every day.”