Big hit with Blackhawks

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:33 AM ET

CHICAGO -- Anyone who sees Dustin Byfuglien walking down the streets in Calgary the next couple of days will likely figure him for a football player.

Maybe you'll mistake him a linebacker. He's about the right size, at 6-foot-3, 255-lb.

Instead, you'd be running into the Chicago Blackhawks young power forward, who -- despite his size -- never had intentions of being on the gridiron.

"I tried playing. I didn't enjoy it," Byfuglien said. "I'd rather be out hunting, sitting in a deer stand than putting on pads and smashing heads. I tried in seventh and eighth grade -- played half-a-season both years -- but didn't like it. Too much time on the field and not enough playing."

Other than playing Elmer Fudd, hockey is his game.

That's the way it is when you grow up in Roseau, Minn., a hockey-mad town that produced the Broten brothers.

"It's what everybody did back home. I'm from a small town in Minnesota -- 3,500 people and three rinks. That's what everybody does," Byfuglien said. "There wasn't much to do around in winter. Even if you didn't play hockey, you put on skates and were out on the outdoor rinks.

"I decided to put on skates and kept going with it."

Where he ends up, though, is anybody's guess.

In sport, the word 'potential' is thrown around like Hershey's Kisses.

Byfuglien, however, is the definition of potential. A vast amount has already been realized. A vast amount remains untapped.

"I've never played against a guy as strong and as solid as he is," said Hawks forward Adam Burish. "He's a freak with how big and strong he is.

"And for a guy his size who can move like he can, that's the reason he's so successful. There's not many guys 255 pounds who can move and handle the puck like him.

"Great hands, too. That gets overlooked. Everybody sees a big guy and thinks about his strength and that he's a power forward, but he's got soft hands and is pretty agile. And once he gets going, he's like a truck going downhill. It's tough to slow him down."

In Thursday's series-opening 3-2 Hawks win, the Calgary Flames certainly saw the physical side of Byfuglien's game.

He recorded a game-high seven hits, and they weren't against shrinking violets, either.

He crushed Jarome Iginla. Another time, he rode Adam Pardy, who's 6-foot-4, 217-lb., into the boards with ease.

"The funny thing is, his personality isn't to be a bull," Burish said. "He's so laid back and mellow. It's hard to get him excited about anything. He's mellow and easy going, wants to go hunting or fishing every day and would rather do that than go crazy."

He had the Flames going a little crazy, notably head coach Mike Keenan.

Keenan charged Byfuglien took out goalie Miikka Kiprusoff's feet from behind and said it should have been intent to injure.

Byfuglien scoffed at the claim.

"I didn't attempt to injure him. If I wanted to injure him, I would have hit him. It's as simple as that," Byfuglien said. "That wasn't anything. I didn't mean anything. It was just to let him know we'll be around him, and maybe he sold it better than what it really was.

"That's part of playoff hockey."

Guess we can watch for more over the course of the series.

Byfuglien believes so.

"Both teams are going to be physical, and whichever way they play, we've got to match it. If we want to play a different way, they've got to match it," said the big right-winger, who collected 15 goals and 31 points this season.

That's not bad for a player drafted in the eighth round, 243rd overall, in 2003 from the WHL's Prince George Cougars.

"I got good feedback every time from people in this organization -- they loved me, and that's a big thing," Byfuglien said. "That gave me confidence and told me good things, and I've fed off that."

RANDY.SPORTAK@SUNMEDIA.CA


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