Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Big Buff slapped with four charges

Legal outlook serious for Jets' star blue-liner

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The speculation is beyond Dustin Byfuglien's control, but with an entire province watching his legal drama unfold, he's going to do what he can to keep the focus on hockey.

Byfuglien was slapped Tuesday afternoon with four charges relating to his arrest for suspected boating while under the influence. The Jets' all-star blue-liner then went out and played a physical and effective hockey game as he introduced himself to Winnipeg's hockey fans.

"It's all about hockey for me. I'm not letting this bother me and there's nothing I can do. I'm just here to go to work and be myself," Byfuglien told the Free Press on Wednesday.

In Byfuglien's first game action as a member of the Jets on Tuesday night, he drilled two Columbus Blue Jackets players to the ice and was then challenged to a fight by tough guy Cody Bass. While Bass tried to get steady and throw punches, the 6-foot-5, 266-pound Byfuglien grabbed his opponent's jersey and pushed and pulled like a high schooler tossing around a grade-school kid.

All this in his first shift with the Jets.

"It just happened to get a start like that where I got a hit right off the start and even though it's a pre-season game their guys wanted to show they would stand up for their guys," Byfuglien said after Jets practice Wednesday morning. "It was an early jump and for us. It was a good chance to show our fans what kind of hockey we're going to play and that we're going to be a fun team to watch."

Byfuglien, who was sporting a raw cut across the bridge of his nose, was leaning against a wall in the Jets dressing room when team owner Mark Chipman approached with his hand out.

"Great start last night," said Chipman. "Thanks. Good to see you, sir," was Byfuglien's reply.

Byfuglien is facing a serious legal situation. The charge of refusing a blood or urine test carries a maximum one-year jail sentence and the other charges of boating while intoxicated, failing to display proper lights and failing to provide enough floatation devices for himself and three other passengers on the boat carry a maximum of 90 days behind bars.

Byfuglien was travelling in his boat with his girlfriend and his accountant and his wife. Both women are pregnant.

"They were with him for hours and there's no way they would have gotten in a boat with him if he was messed up," said a source involved in the case.

Byfuglien, according to his legal team, co-operated with police and offered a breath sample that he passed, blowing .03, which is well below the legal limit of .08 in Minnesota.

Byfuglien then refused the request of a blood or urine sample prior to speaking with his lawyer. After calling his lawyer, Mitch Robinson, and being told by Robinson to take the test, Byfuglien offered to provide a sample but police refused to accept it.

Byfuglien was in custody for less than three hours.

"It's ongoing. I have a job to do and everyone gets paid to do something and I need to worry about that. This is serious, but it's out of my hands and all I can do is keep going," Byfuglien said. "I have to lean on my support group and sit and listen and take their advice. It's time to move on for me and I can't let something like this slow me down. I've got a job to go do. I can't let it bother me. I have to put it aside. When it comes to coming to the rink, everyone is accountable and I have to hold up my end."

Byfugien said Tuesday's physical outburst was just situational and not his personality.

"I'm easygoing," he said. "When it's time to come to the rink and go to work, I do what I have to do. I'm a fun and happy guy in the room. I love being around the guys and in the room. When it's time to go home, it's time for me to be quiet and go and do my own thing," he said. "I could care less if anyone likes me. If you don't like me, you don't like me. I'm going to be myself. I get along with pretty much anybody. I'll sit and talk to you. I'm not going to brush you off."

Playing in Atlanta last season, the franchise failed to make the playoffs. Byfuglien said the change can work to the team's advantage.

"It was a sold-out barn (Tuesday) for a pre-season game," he said. "I don't think we had a sold-out barn last year. It's something for myself and the whole team; it's an extra oomph to get us going," he said. "Some nights we're going to be tired and then we'll hear the crowd and it will get us ready to go. It's nice to be in front of and to have full support and have everyone want to commit and be part of the game. We're a hard-working team and we're going to have to battle to make the playoffs and go to war every night. Playoffs is everything. This is work. Playoffs are a whole different thing and it's a whole different level of excitement."

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 22, 2011 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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