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‘Big Buff’ emerges from the wilderness

Standout Thrashers defenceman chats about new hockey home

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These are a few of the things that give Dustin Byfuglien great joy:

Lambasting an opponent into the glass so hard the building actually rattles;

 Manoeuvring into enemy territory and flashing some offensive skills before depositing the puck into the net — and no other NHL defenceman scored more goals than he did last season;

 Escaping from it all to his cabin, his sanctuary from the pressures and the accompanying spotlight that comes with being a professional athlete.

 And so it was on Tuesday when the Free Press caught up with one of Winnipeg’s newest hockey stars — "Big Buff" his teammates call him — who had emerged from the wilderness to chat for a few minutes about hockey, fishing and his new sporting address.

 FP: We know you love the great outdoors — the Atlanta Thrashers media guide says if you weren’t playing hockey you’d like to be a hunting or fishing guide — so when was the last time you were up here testing our waters?

 DB: I just spent a week-and-a-half in Roseau fishing. I’ve been up there (Manitoba) a couple of times, but it’s been a couple of years. I’ve got to catch one of those green walleyes.

 FP: Even though you’ve been keeping a low profile, you’ve obviously been keeping up on all the crazy excitement here. Give us your take on moving from Atlanta to Winnipeg.

 DB: It should be good. It’s definitely going to be a change for everyone who has been in Atlanta since they’ve been in the league and we’re going to have to get used to everyone knowing what we’re doing and not doing, that’s for sure.  There’s good and bad to that.

 FP: You won’t be able to keep a low profile here, is my guess. But you’re from Minnesota so you’ve got to be used to the cold. And your family’s close by... that’s got to be a bonus, right?

 DB: I AM used to the cold. I’m only an hour and- a-half from my cabin, two hours from home... it’s a win-lose situation for me. It’s good to be close to your family but then again sometimes you think, ‘Oh man, what a pain in the ass they’re going to be.’

FP: That’s hilarious — and true. Give me a moment to clean up the soft drink I just spit up...

 The Atlanta situation... What happened there? Why didn’t it work?

 DB: I definitely enjoyed Atlanta a lot. There are fans there and there were good crowds. It was fun to play there and I enjoyed it, the city and everything. But just the way the organization was run, it wasn’t up to standards that’s for sure. That’s all that needs to be said on that.

 FP: The franchise here will announce that Kevin Cheveldayoff is the new GM on Wednesday. You make relationships in sports... how does what happened to Rick Dudley make you feel?

 DB: It’s tough. I know Dudley real well. It’s sad, but then again it’s part of business and the fact the team is doing that is not really that surprising. I’m not worried... Duds will be around somewhere and he’ll always be a good friend. That’s part of hockey, you never know where you’re going to be next year.

 FP: And you guys are sure living that right now, aren’t you?

 DB: We’re living it big time right now.

 FP: But that’s what is different here, isn’t it? This isn’t getting traded and trying to get acquainted in a new town and a new lockerroom that already has its cliques, its established friendships. You guys are all doing this together, which has to help.

 DB: It makes a big difference.  Everyone’s going there and everything’s going to be new. All we’ve got to do now is learn about the city together.

 FP: Give us a scouting report on your club.

 DB: We got a young, quick team that likes to work. When we’re not working, we’re not that good. But when we are working, we’re a hard team to beat. We’ve got a lot of good young talent coming up. We’ve got kids that need to develop, slow down a little bit and see the game. The fans will definitely enjoy it. We’ve just got to stay together and when s--- goes down we have to come together as a team better. It’s a good, close group but there is a learning curve and it takes time to get that.

 FP: That’s one of the things Mark Chipman said last week at the announcement, that he wanted this team to be a reflection of the organization and this town: a hardworking, not necessarily flashy crew. Sounds like there’s a lot of that with your team.

 DB: This team has a lot of character to it and that’s big. You’ve got to have every player doing something different and each person knowing what they’re job is... when guys know their role and are consistent with it you can go a long way. We’re close to having that.

 FP: Finally, have you got an idea of what this place is going to be like on opening night and for every home game? It’s not 20,000 like you guys had in Chicago, but 15,000 can be loud and the old Winnipeg Arena was regarded as one of the loudest buildings in the NHL.

 DB: It’s going to be great. Any time you can go into your home barn and you know it’s going to be packed... it’s like having an extra man and we definitely noticed that in Chicago. When we first started there it wasn’t full at all, there were 7,000 people, but in my last three years there it was jam-packed.

 There was some games where it was hard to get yourself up and ready to go right from the get-go. But as soon as the anthem went you were cranked right up and ready to play.

 Every guy should eat that up and then we’ll do what we can to give those fans some good hockey to watch.

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