Friday, May 28, 2010
By Brett Ballantini
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.