WINNIPEG - In the land of 10,000 lakes, why does everything happen on Lake Minnetonka?
We ponder this in the wake of Winnipeg Jet Dustin Byfuglien’s run-in with the authorities down in Minnesota.
Big Buff, as he’s affectionately known, got off to a lousy start as a Jet, creating the kind of off-season headlines that make P.R. types cringe.
Wednesday night around 8 p.m., something caused a deputy sheriff to suspect Byfuglien was operating his boat under the influence on Lake Minnetonka, the same lake made infamous by several members of the Minnesota Vikings a few years back.
Byfuglien wasn’t taking part in a floating orgy, the way the Vikes were, but when he refused to take a breathalyzer he’d made his second mistake: upping the ante from a potential fourth-degree misdemeanor to third-degree, which tripled the maximum fine to $3,000 and doubled the maximum jail time to one year.
Hennepin County’s finest put him behind bars for a few hours, and were only too eager to distribute the guy’s mug shot, which seems to be standard procedure in the land of the free.
Next thing you know Byfuglien’s rather pudgy, downtrodden face is splashed on internet sites everywhere, particularly in Winnipeg.
Welcome to the fish bowl, Big Buff.
I don’t know what kind of coverage a similar incident would draw in Atlanta, but you can bet this will get full play here, where an NHL player’s every move is of interest to the masses.
“Nobody wants to make headlines, especially coming to a new city,” a former teammate of Byfuglien’s, who asked to remain anonymous, told me, Thursday. “You never want to put yourself in that situation.”
As of Thursday evening, Byfuglien still hadn’t been formally charged.
His former teammate, who’d spoken with him, downplayed the incident, saying it wasn’t as serious as it sounded.
“He’s not that kind of a guy,” the player insisted. “He’s a great guy. A great family and community guy, great with kids. It’s not something in a million years you’d dream of happening.”
Of course, even great guys make mistakes.
Curiously, the Jets remained silent on the incident, issuing releases about their rookie camp (11:14 a.m.) and the long-awaited unveiling of their jerseys (3:57 p.m.) — but nothing about Big Buff.
This from an organization that’s gone out of its way to say character is one of the prerequisites of being a Jet.
GM Kevin Cheveldayoff granted the Sun an interview about other issues, but questions about his star defenceman were off-limits.
There wasn’t even a formal statement about how the club takes the issue of drinking and driving (or boating) very seriously, but will wait to see how the incident unfolds.
Don’t think it’s a big deal to have a few pops and get behind the wheel of a boat?
Tell that to the families of Tim Crews and Steve Olin, the two Cleveland Indians pitchers killed when Crews had a few too many and ran into a dock, in 1993.
Perhaps the Jets are waiting to see if charges will be laid before saying anything.
Either way, Byfuglien has already paid a price in the court of public opinion.
If not for drinking too much, then for weighing too much.
A report says the guy tipped the jail-house scales at 286 pounds, some 41 pounds over his listed playing weight of last season.
Of course, with Big Buff, what’s listed could be a big bluff.
“The last time Buff was 245 pounds he might have been 14 years old,” his ex-teammate said.
That may be.But here in hockey country, every pound is scrutinized. Just like every outing with a case of beer is a potential national incident.
Charge or no charge, mistake or misunderstanding, Big Buff has learned that lesson.
On a lake that’s taught a few of them.