Brent Seabrook was nine years old and playing for a suburban Vancouver team when he first laid eyes on Dustin Byfuglien, a big kid from a Minnesota trailer park who would become his future Chicago Blackhawks teammate.
"He was head-and-shoulders above everybody else," Seabrook said. "He was so big. He had such a hard shot. And it was tough playing against him. I think I asked at about 13 or 14 years old where he went, and nobody knew. I guess he quit playing hockey."
It was a touch later than that, but Byfuglien, now a 6-foot-4, 257-pound power forward, did hang up his skates as a teenager to spend the season fishing near his hometown of Roseau, about 20 kilometres from the Manitoba border. Minnesota is the "State of Hockey" but Byfuglien wasn't in the state of mind to play the game back then, and conditioning himself to play professionally proved even more arduous after he returned to the ice and toiled in the junior WHL.
To this day, Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville says, Byfuglien battles inconsistency - but if there is one thing he does well, it is score important goals against the Vancouver Canucks in Stanley Cup playoff games.
That was the case last year, when Byfuglien announced that his rump would be a pain goaltender Roberto Luongo's face during what would turn out to be a six-game series triumph by Chicago. Byfuglien scored in just one game, but it was a two-goal effort in a win at GM Place in Vancouver.
Again this year, he was quiet through the first two contests against the Canucks, but he bettered himself with a hat trick last Wednesday in Chicago's 5-2 victory.
"He had an excellent game and was in the middle of everything," teammate Marian Hossa said, failing to specify Luongo's crease. "I think he's under Vancouver's skin a little bit."
The Canucks loathe the attention Byfuglien, 25, is getting and, on Thursday, two more players said the media is too focused on the 'Hawks winger. Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault, while mispronouncing his name, pointed out Byfuglien was an "unknown" before last year's postseason, but he has morphed into villain of this series, the bane of all British Columbia.
In the dressing room, Byfuglien (pronounced BUHF-lihn) is known as a laid-back guy who is "lots of entertainment," according to Hossa.
At GM Place, however, he is known as a thug, constantly crashing and banging Luongo, and celebrating goals, including an arms-open, how-you-like-me-now taunt in Game 3. He also declared no Canucks player can contain him once positioned in the slot, and said he has "definitely" rattled the opposition with his physical play.
In junior, Byfuglien weighed about 280 pounds, and played for the Prince George Cougars, though not with much distinction, and only because he was an academically eligible to play in Minnesota's vaunted high-school system. His lack of motivation was stunning, because Byfuglien certainly had much to gain.
He was raised in a trailer home by his Norwegian mother, who rented his hockey equipment and took out a loan so he could play in the WHL. Cheryl Byfuglien drove a forklift for a snowmobile manufacturer, and while Dustin had a large extended family in Roseau, it did not include his father.
Byfuglien did just enough to be drafted by Chicago in the eighth round in 2003. His size couldn't be taught, and his slap shot could travel the length of the ice - and still be rising - when it struck the glass some 200 feet away.
"Buff can have games like that, where he can be a dominant guy," Quenneville said of his Game 3 performance. "But the consistency is something we'd like to see Buff obtain and achieve, because he could be real special."Report Typo/Error