Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Dustin looking, well... Buff

Big-boned D-man reports to Jets camp at respectable 266

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Dustin BYFUGLIEN'S teammates have his back.

He's here. He weighed in at 266 pounds and he's ready to play hockey. End of story as far as his crew is concerned.

You can be sure the rest of the Jets care little about Byfuglien getting in a jam in Minnesota over refusing to pee for the cops. He passed a breathalyzer then made a mistake by refusing to provide a sample. Maybe the constabulary in Minny have their gitch in a twist but the Jets aren't buying into the angst.

It's a non-issue in the dressing room.

"The support from the guys is good. It never fails. They always have a way of cracking a few jokes and getting you smiling again," said Byfuglien.

He is a key to the Jets' success on the ice and he's sorry for the trouble he's caused. "Of course I wish it hadn't happened," he said.

Byfuglien hasn't made the most seamless entrance into life in Winnipeg, between his legal issues and rumoured weight gains. But for his teammates and the people that matter, it's welcome home, Big Buff.

Players rely on one another to perform to the best of their abilities. Having a star player not carry his load in terms of off-season training is a major no-no. The days of Phil Esposito's Summit Series greasy double chin are over. Teammates will forgive a lot, but not poor fitness.

Byfuglien may not grace the cover of Men's Fitness anytime soon, but his teammates say he's ready.

"I know he's in good shape. I saw Dustin on a daily basis and he was working really hard. There are going to be some rumours, especially with what happened, and there is going to be some negative stuff said. I've spoken to Dustin and I know he's ready to go," said teammate Mark Stuart, who prepared for the season with Byfuglien at a Minneapolis facility this summer.

Jets team personnel said they were "thrilled" with Byfuglien's fitness-testing results on Friday. He has been rumoured to weigh anywhere from 286 to 300 pounds at different times this summer but reported for Jets camp at team-verified 266 pounds.

"I tell people all the time that I don't think he'd be as good a player if he didn't look the way he does. He's strong. I've never seen somebody as strong as he is. He's powerful and he gets around the ice," said Stuart. "He's fit and he won't be winded. When you look at him, you're not seeing a guy that's cut. That's not his body. Even if he wanted, he couldn't be chiselled."

Byfuglien wasn't talking about his legal issues or giving out prizes for guessing his weight.

"I can't really talk about it right now," said Byfuglien, who stands 6-foot-5 and, according to Chicago Blackhawks sources, played north of 280 pounds during the team's run to the Stanley Cup in the spring of 2010. "My lawyer says not to. Later on, maybe we can but right now, that's it."

Weight has been an issue throughout Byfuglien's career. The Hawks attempted to put him on a strict regime but abandoned it when the his game went into the tank as his weight dipped.

"My weight's always going to be the same," he said. "I have no problem with my weight. Obviously they're happy with my weight. I just got done. That's no problem. You guys keep throwing numbers out there and having fun with it, guessing."

Give us a number, Byfuglien was asked.

"No, whatever you want," he said with a laugh.

Captain Andrew Ladd cut to the chase on the subject of his teammate's weight.

"I think it's been talked about since he was in Chicago. He looks the same to me. I've never had a problem with Buff," said Ladd. "He looks one way but you see what he does out on the ice. The speed that he has and what he can do. He looks good and you'll see what he can do once he gets out on the ice."

Coach Claude Noel says there's no issue at this point, legal or otherwise with Byfuglien.

"I didn't get the numbers on anybody, but he looked great," said Noel, who plans on taking Byfuglien on road trips over the border beginning in pre-season and going forward. "As far as I know, unless I'm told differently, he's part of our group and part of our team."

Noel says there's no mistake about where Byfuglien fits in with his team.

"He's one of our stallions," said Noel.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 17, 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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