Four times he’s been called up to fill a hole in the Carolina Hurricanes lineup only to be sent back to the American Hockey League when an injured player is ready to return or a roster spot needs to be cleared to make room for a player acquired in a trade.
The fifth-year pro has learned to pack light and be prepared to catch a flight at a moment’s notice. He’s become familiar with all the airports, rental-car places and hotel routes around the NHL and AHL.
“It’s always interesting when they call you up,” Bayda said. “Usually they try and tell you how long you might be up and you’re able to prepare. Then there are the times like when we were in Norfolk (Feb. 7-9) and all I had with me was a tracksuit and a suit when I got the call. I had to do a little shopping when I got there (to Carolina).”
He has appeared in nine games with the defending Stanley Cup champion Hurricanes this season, recording one goal and one assist. While his stints with Carolina have been brief, every call-up to the NHL has provided him with another opportunity to show that he can play at that level.
“It’s always disappointing when you’re told you’re being sent down, but you understand when you go up that guys are hurt and what the time frame is for when they’ll be back,” Bayda said. “Every time up though is an opportunity to prove to whoever is watching that you belong there.”
Bayda plays in all situations with the River Rats – on the top line, power play and penalty kill. His role in the NHL is different.
“I don’t see as much ice time in the NHL as I do here,” he said. “I play on the third and fourth lines up there, mostly in five-on-five situations. I try to create energy and spark the team. Whatever I have to do.”
General managers, coaches and scouts closely monitor how players react when they get sent down to the AHL. The 26-year-old native of Saskatoon, Sask., hasn’t let the disappointment of not being in the NHL effect his performance in Albany.
“He’s a terrific guy who has fought through an awful lot of adversity and has proven he’s a solid, professional player,” River Rats head coach and general manager Tom Rowe said.
A third-round pick by Carolina in 2000 out of the University of North Dakota, Bayda played in 69 NHL games with the Hurricanes during his first two professional seasons. During the NHL lockout, he spent all of 2004-05 in the AHL with Lowell. His career nearly came to an end that season when he suffered a serious knee injury during the Calder Cup Playoffs.
“The knee injury and having to miss the first half of last season was tough, but in the long run it may have helped my career,” Bayda said. “It made me realize how quickly you can be out of this game. When I hurt my knee (in the spring of 2005) and doctors told me it would be December before I could play, it was hard to fathom that.”
Following a long rehabilitation process, he was signed by the Manitoba Moose and played in 59 of the club’s final 60 games, recording 13 goals and 25 assists.
“Manitoba gave me a chance to come back and re-establish myself again, show people that I could come back and play,” Bayda said.
The Hurricanes, convinced he had made a full recovery, re-signed him last summer. He had a strong training camp and it appeared he would open the season with Carolina. But a trade with Los Angeles days before the start of the season squeezed him off the roster.
He has handled the promotions and demotions well. He has scored an AHL career-high 15 goals and 12 assists in 31 games with the River Rats this season.
A full-time position in the NHL is waiting in the wings for the 5-foot-11, 195-pounder.
“He’s done nothing but great things for us since he re-joined the organization,” Rowe said. “He certainly deserves a chance. He’s an NHL player now. He’s just waiting for a spot to stay in that league permanently.”