Hawk Talk: Buff's toughness comes from Grandpa

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Hawk Talk: Buff's toughness comes from Grandpa

Friday, May 28, 2010
2:15 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

CHICAGO It started in Nashville, with an unprompted run of screams, slapshots and self-checks on the boards. Aggressive, hitting, the way his grandfather taught him to play.

Let the wild rumpus begin, indeed.

The Blackhawks were deadlocked 1-1 in their quarterfinals series with the Predators, and Dustin Byfuglien professed that his unprompted attack on an innocent section of boards at the Bridgestone Center, coupled with loud screams that literally stopped the arena cold (and amused his teammates to no end) was him just fooling around.

But soon, Brian Campbell would return to the lineup and Byfuglien was a temporary defenseman no more. And in the process of not only moving back to offense but onto the Blackhawks top line, the 64, 257-pound power forward changed the course of Chicagos season forever.

Byfuglien leads the team with eight goalsall in the last eight games of the playoffsand four game-winners, including three deciding tallies in the recent sweep of the San Jose Sharks.

For his part, the soft-spoken, fifth-year player smiles sheepishly and shakes his head when reminded of his outburst a month ago. Befitting a man whos usually the biggest in the room but would rather be overlooked and left to his own devices, it takes a few tries to get him to talk about that latest transition time in his career.

It was nothing, really, Byfuglien said. I was just having a good time, trying to loosen up the guys. Wed played so solid at home, and this was our first road game in the playoffs.

Big Buff in fact may have done much too good a job readying up his mates for road work. While the Blackhawks would lose Game 3 in Nashville, it was the last road loss of the postseason for Chicago.

Yeah, maybe I did, but thats a good thing, right? Byfuglien says, laughing.

Theres another side to Dr. Buffs motivational techniques, however, and it comes from something ingrained in him from a very young age, from his grandfather, Kenny.

Byfuglien, for those who arent familiar, was raised in rural Roseau, Minn. (just south of the Canadian border) by his mother and grandparents, living in a trailer behind his grandparents house. His mother, Cheryl, worked a blue-collar job to support Dustin, and as a youngster he spent a lot of his free time on local outdoor rinks, playing with his cousins.

Byfuglien was four when he started playing hockey, growing to idolize his cousin Derrick, who seemed like an NHL player to me, as a little kid, Byfuglien said.

But it is Byfugliens grandfather whos made a lasting impression. Buff went so far as to admit that the first call he would make after Chicagos clinching of a Stanley Cup berth on Sunday would be his grandpa, and yesterday at the Stanley Cup media day, he updated the story.

It took me awhile to get through to him, Byfuglien said. He was pretty excited to hear from me, and excited about the game.

Byfuglien had predicted that his game-winning goal to clinch the Blackhawks first Stanley Cup berth in would get his grandpa off the couch, and indeed it did.

He was so excited, Byfuglien says with visible pride, and the closest youll get him to blushing. Hes my biggest fan, and he was hollering for me.

While his grandpa imparted many lessons on long truck drives together, from practical things like his decorum on the ice and how he should treat his coaches, to life lessons and encouragement.

But when it comes to what Grandpa Kenny is most excited to see from Roseaus favorite son, its something decidedly less polite.

What does my grandpa like to see, me score a goal or make a big hit? Byfuglien repeats. Thats easy, no questionhe wants to see me hit.

A goal gets him off the couch, but hes always telling me to be physical. So a big hit, that might get him jumping around the room.

Grandpa Kenny hasnt seen any playoff games so far in 2010, but hes on his way down to watch the Blackhawks host the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1 on Saturday. So fans, ushers, bewareif you see an older gentleman looking positively Buff-ish and leaping through the aisles after a big Byfuglien hit, you can call him Kenny.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

Dennis Rasmussen looks to build off experience

Dennis Rasmussen looks to build off experience

The Blackhawks’ offseason moves have once again left holes, especially among the forward lines. Considering the experience Dennis Rasmussen gained last season, he could certainly grab the third- or fourth-line center spot.

But Rasmussen isn’t going to pencil in anything yet.

“I don’t really think that way. I always think I have to play as good as possible to earn a spot, and that’s what I think this year, too,” said Rasmussen on Day 3 of Blackhawks training camp. “But it’s really up to me. I have to play well to earn my spot here. That’s what I’m trying to focus on.”

After trading Andrew Shaw, Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell this offseason, the Blackhawks will be looking for several players to step up and fill voids. Center is one of those spots, and Rasmussen played 44 games there with the Blackhawks last season. Rasmussen spent the long offseason prepping for this campaign, focusing on one thing in particular.

“I always try to work on getting faster, that’s the part of my game I can really improve,” he said. “I can improve everything. But especially getting quicker, that’s what I’m trying to focus.”

Anything else Rasmussen has to do to take that next step?

“I think he’s got to be a little more proactive than reactive out on the ice,” Blackhawks assistant coach Mike Kitchen said. “Kind of be a little bolder in different areas whether it’s in the offensive zone if you’re down between the hash marks, hey, try and take a guy on 1-on-1. But if you’re a neutral zone, you got to be a little more responsible. If you got to pick up the wide winger and come back and play good defensive hockey, that’s what you’ve got to do.”

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Rasmussen showed that when he made his NHL debut last season. The Blackhawks recalled him in early December, when they were looking to bolster their bottom six; any offense added was a bonus. He scored three of his four goals in his first seven games – his first came in his NHL debut vs. Nashville.

“He can make more things happen out there,” Kitchen said. “I think he understands that too because he wants to do whatever it takes to make the team.”

Rasmussen wants to be part of this group. He gained some great experience last year, and he hopes it serves him well in trying to get that roster spot this season.

“It was great for me. I got to play a lot, think I played in some important situations sometimes and I was really happy with last year. It gave me a lot of confidence, a lot of experience too,” Rasmussen said. “So hopefully I can bring that into this year.”

Alexandre Fortin signs three-year deal with Blackhawks

Alexandre Fortin signs three-year deal with Blackhawks

After earning a couple of invites from the Blackhawks this offseason, Alexandre Fortin earned a contract on Sunday.

Fortin agreed to terms on a three-year contract with the Blackhawks, who had invited him to prospect and training camp. The 19-year-old, who was passed over in two NHL drafts, was hoping to latch onto the Blackhawks’ organization.

“You know, it’s a nice day for me. I’ve been working on that since I was young, so now it’s just Step 1 and I’m very excited for the future,” Fortin said following Sunday’s training camp sessions. “I have to thank the Chicago Blackhawks. It’s the first team that really believed in me. It’s awesome.”

Indeed, Fortin was just looking for a chance and he could get it here eventually.

“I think it’s a real plus,” Blackhawks assistant coach Mike Kitchen said. “I think he earned a contract. Right from the start, he stepped up and played. He’s been very consistent in every scrimmage. He’s been a threat to score out on the ice. I think he’s done a terrific job. He’s got to be very, very happy about the whole situation. It’s great for the organization: get a free agent who comes in and earns a three-year entry-level contract.”

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The most likely scenario is he’ll head back to his Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team, the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, after logging some training camp time with the Blackhawks. He could get into a preseason game, too. But the future definitely looks bright for Fortin.

“It’s, for sure, just Step 1. My real goal is to play pro,” Fortin said. “So I’ll keep learning, keep doing what coaches want, I’ll watch (the players) who I have to be like and keep working on that every day until my real dream comes true.”

Keith doing fine

Duncan Keith participated in one of the Blackhawks’ two practices again on Sunday, and Kitchen said Keith did just fine.

“The first day, Duncs, he got through the practice no problem. He didn’t have any issues. Talked to him the next day, the festival game day, and he said he was fine. Today was a little tougher day for defensemen, so we were asking a lot of them. There was a lot of 1-on-1, 2-on-1s, 2-on-2s. Duncs said after practice the forwards had it off and the D had the work day today. But he responded well afterwards,” Kitchen said. “He even asked if he could come out for the other practice, but we said no.”