Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Big Buff a happy guy

He's a new dad, an all-star... if only that dang knee would get better

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It seems that being an NHL all-star and a father rather agree with Winnipeg Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien.

The 26-year-old from Roseau, Minn., was as relaxed and engaging as he's been all season Friday when he met with reporters at the MTS Centre to discuss his selection to play in the NHL's all-star game Jan. 29 in Ottawa.

Byfuglien hasn't given interviews in weeks, in part because he hasn't played since Dec. 23. He injured his knee -- he confirmed it was that on Friday -- practising after Christmas and will miss a ninth straight game today against the New Jersey Devils.

"Any opportunity you get to go to an all-star game, it's a privilege," a smiling Byfuglien said Friday after his teammates finished their practice. "You've just got to have fun with it.

"You get to go out on the ice with guys that you always wanted to be on the ice with, Iginla, Sedins, Lidstrom. To have the opportunity to put on the same jersey with them, and be a part of a fun weekend."

Big questions for Jets fans are -- will he be able to play in the all-star contest, and when will he play again for the Jets?

"I hope so (to play)," Byfuglien said. "Rehab's going well right now. I'll just hopefully get on the ice here in the next week."

The all-star game is 15 days away.

Byfuglien said after little progress last week, his knee is again heading in the right direction.

"I hit a spot where we don't really know what's going on right now," he said. "A couple of days here I hit a good streak and I feel better and hopefully I'll start skating.

"I'm just not feeling the best on it. I want to be 100 per cent with it, something I don't want to have egging me on later in the year.

"I thought a few days of rest (when this happened in practice) would help it. It didn't do much."

Byfuglien and his girlfriend Emily are the proud parents of Kira Rae, born Dec. 29.

"So far it's been alright," Byfuglien smiled. "I haven't been playing or anything. I've just been hanging out at home, watching her sleep and eat."

And changing diapers, he was asked?

"I've had to do that," he said with a laugh.

He said that so far this season, he has found Winnipeg to be small. He has also found it to be a hockey town.

"Coming here, once you get to Winnipeg and you realize how small the town is and how crazy the fans are around here, you know you're getting into a hockey community," he said.

"Outside the rink, everyone wants to talk hockey with you. It's not the first thing we want to do, talk hockey. You want to talk about other things.

"But once you get to the rink and you're in front of a sold-out crowd, there's nothing better than putting on a show for the fans."

That's different than in his past, he said.

"I guess in Atlanta, they didn't really talk about hockey," Byfuglien said. "They asked a few questions but they didn't know enough to ask too many questions. In Chicago it got to be talking a lot of hockey but they talked about a lot of other things, too."

Byfuglien expects there to be a lot of chatter at the all-star game, his second straight year at the event.

He said Friday he doesn't mind how the teams are chosen up now, with the captains leading a "draft."

"I don't mind it," he said. "The defencemen can never get picked last. At least last year you couldn't. It's not a bad thing. It's fun. I think most of the guys enjoy it. You try (to lobby), see where you stand. I guess last year was the first year, no one really knew what was going to happen. This year, I think a few guys might be trying to buy some sodas before things happen."

Ahead, leading into the all-star game and beyond, Byfuglien said he's got one item as a priority.

"I guess it would be to try to get this team into a playoff position again, get this thing turned around," he said of the Jets. "It's not the easy time of the year right now. It's a learning curve. Teams that work together can pull through this quicker and get running."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 14, 2012 C3

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