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ROY MacGREGOR

Jets players can kiss anonymity goodbye Add to ...

It is an issue so pressing that it is simply mind-boggling that the leaders have yet to debate it during the lead-up to the Oct. 4 Manitoba provincial election.

How much does Dustin Byfuglien weigh?

They ask it in the coffee shops, they ask it in the sports pages, they even asked it to his face Friday morning after the team physicals.

How much?

“Whatever you want,” answered the big Winnipeg Jets defenceman, known to his teammates as “Big Buff.”

For decades it has been known that in a small room at NHL headquarters in New York they keep a doctored tape measure. It takes little guys 5 foot 7 to 5 foot 10 and – presto! – they soar to 5 foot 10 and six feet.

Now it is believed, though the league has yet to confirm, that there is also a trick scale in the same room, one capable of listing players at levels they last saw when they were 13 and had just discovered the Dairy Queen Blizzard.

Big Buff’s weight became an issue by accident this summer as the Thrashers, the team he played for last season, were quietly buried in Atlanta and the Jets were reborn in Winnipeg. He had been boating on Lake Minnetonka in his home state of Minnesota when he was stopped for having no running lights – it being dusk on the water.

The officers who stopped him grew suspicious. They gave him a Breathalyzer, which his lawyer claims he easily passed. They wanted him to give a urine sample, which he refused to do. His lawyer says his client was operating under bad previous advice, though perhaps that went all the way back to childhood when, like every other young boy, he was told not to pee the bed.

Whatever, it all led to poor Dustin Byfuglien being arrested, taken in and … weighed.

The next thing you know, it’s being reported that he weighed in at 286 pounds.

The 26-year-old all-star defenceman was said to have played at 245 pounds a year ago in Atlanta; the Jets list him at 265 pounds. At 286 pounds, he would apparently establish an NHL record.

Little wonder, then, that more than a hundred press eyes took the measure of Big Buff as he stepped to the microphone in MTS Centre Friday. He wore jeans, an aqua T-shirt, neck chain and ball cap. He also brought with him a stubborn mouth that insists on grinning when his brain is telling him to look and act serious.

Any trouble crossing the border? he was asked.

“No, not yet.” Smile.

Then the weight questions began. “My weight,” he said, “is always going to be the same. I have no problems with my weight.”

Nor, however, did he have any actual statistic to offer.

“I’m just here to play hockey,” he said. “That’s what I do.”

Unfortunately, there is more to this than just playing hockey. It is not just that Byfuglien may or may not be charged in Minnesota; it is that he and his teammates have entered a fishbowl the likes of which they could not even have imagined in Atlanta.

Nor are today’s Winnipeg Jets the Winnipeg Jets of 15 years ago. Those Jets left town years before the advent of Twitter, before blogs, before 24-hour sports radio, before competing sports channels and a hockey world where as much attention can be paid to a player’s treatment of cab drivers as to his treatment of opposing goaltenders.

Welcome, then, Jets players, to Canada. And not only to Canada but to a city small enough, and hockey-crazed enough, that, in a strange way, they will never really leave the ice surface this winter. Every shift, whether in full uniform or blue jeans, will be seen and analyzed and discussed.

“It’s something we have to get used to,” says the new team’s captain, Andrew Ladd.

And Dustin Byfuglien just became the first player out on that new and slippery ice surface.

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