Dustin “Big Buff” Byfuglien

chicago blackhawks player dustin byfuglien
Flickr Credit: dkaz / CC BY 2.0

Dustin Byfuglien (pronounced buff-lin, not bye-fug-leen) was a member of the Chicago Blackhawks from 2005 to 2010, and a part of the Stanley Cup Winning 2010 team. His flare for the dramatic and physical play made him a fan-favorite and a constant source of concern for opposing defensemen.

“Big Buff” was drafted by the Hawks in 2003 and played for the club’s minor league affiliates, The Prince George Cougars, Norfolk Admirals and Rockford Ice Hogs. During his stint in the minors he earned a reputation for being a gritty player who wasn’t afraid to battle along the boards and lay a hit on the opposition. Dustin made the Blackhawks roster in 2007, amassing 19 goals and 17 assists in his rookie year.

Needing more bodies in front of the net, Coach Denis Savard moved Byfuglien from defense to wing, hoping to capitalize on his size and aggression. Buff didn’t disappoint, terrorizing goal tenders and earning the affectionate title of a “poor man’s Tomas Holmstrom.” As the Hawks’ popularity soared at the end of the decade, so did Dustin’s.

His legend grew during the 2009 playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks, as he tortured star goalie Roberto Luongo, deflecting shots and blocking his line of sight. The Canucks seemed so consumed with retaliating against him that it gave the Hawks’ more finessed players more time and space with which to pepper the net.

Buff never fully developed into the consistent player the Blackhawks brass envisioned him as, but he did show flashes of that ability during the playoffs the following year. In a rematch with the Canucks, Byfuglien again harassed Luongo, netting himself a hat trick in Game 3 and racking up game winning goals during the series. His showy post-goal taunting of Canucks fans instantly demonized him in Vancouver and elevated him to cult-status in Chicago. With so many more people paying attention to the Blackhawks, Byfuglien couldn’t have picked a better time to shine.

Team captain Jonathan Toews, in addressing reporters, mused on the catalyst for his line-mate’s success, “A lot of you guys like to talk about him this time of the year; maybe it gets him going a little bit.” Byfuglien’s take on his play was a little more direct: “They’ve got to be worrying about me coming and worrying about getting hit.”

Heading into the ’09-10 Stanley Cup Finals against the Philadelphia Flyers,the media paid much attention to the match-up of Byfuglien and Flyers’ veteran d-man Chris Pronger. Pronger had earned the ire of Blackhawks fans during the series for his perceived cheap shots and dirty play, which only made it sweeter when Byfuglien bulldozed him into the boards during Game 5 in a hit that was made for YouTube and will surely find its way into the next Don Cherry DVD.

With attention swirling around him for his timely mix of bravado, muscle and scoring touch, the typically laid-back Byfuglien had this to say: “Kane and Toews tell me to hold on to the puck, and then they yell at me to get rid of it. I just go out there and play and not worry about anything. It’s not too often you can be in the spotlight, like Kane and Toews, so might as well take it and stay with it.”

After only scoring 17 goals during the regular season, Buff tallied an impressive 11 in the Hawks run to their first Stanley Cup in 49 years. Unfortunately, with a $3 million dollar salary cap hit, Byfuglien became a casualty of finance. A mere two weeks after hoisting the Cup, Dustin, along with teammates Ben Eager and Brent Sopel, was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers in a move that netted the Hawks draft picks and some much needed fiscal relief.

The move was no doubt difficult for Blackhawks fans to swallow, especially with many newer fans becoming so fond of the young star. Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith admitted he had a hard time accepting the trade, saying, “It’s too bad it had to be like this… it’s not going to be fun.”

Byfuglien possessed the perfect Chicago combination of skill and toughness, securing his place among the legends of A.J. Pierzynski, Bob Probert and Dennis Rodman, figures that are as ingrained in the Chicago sports mythos as the Jordans and Hulls and Sandbergs. Regardless of how the rest of his career plays out, Chicago fans will cherish the image of Big Buff skating on one leg, arms spread wide, smiling and jawing at irate Canucks fans.

Gene Wagendorf III

About Gene Wagendorf III

Gene is a writer who has spent his entire quarter century of life as a resident of Chicago. When not exploring the city he can be found wandering flea markets and garage sales or having a cigarette between classes at Northeastern Illinois University, where he hopes to acquire a degree in the next quarter century. His favorite smells are old books and bowling alleys. His poetry (how embarrassing!) can be found in issues of Kill Poet, Ditch, Word Riot, O Sweet Flowery Roses and Vowel Movements.

2 Comments

  • KMH
    July 12, 2010 | Permalink | Reply

    I agree that Buff was very entertaining during these playoffs and has shown moments of greatness during the regular season but to put him on the level of Pierzynski, Probert (RIP), and Rodman is a little of a strech. Probert and Rodman were two of the largest characters in their respected games. They broke the laws and the rules while playing at a high level. I feel to put Buff on this level it is disrespectful to their careers. I am a Buff fan and loved watching him these playoffs. Good luck Buff and Go Hawks.

    • July 12, 2010 | Permalink | Reply

      That’s a good point. I didn’t mean to imply that he was on the same level of these players insofar as what he has accomplished in his career. Probert was probably the most feared fighter in NHL history, AJ has a longer history of being clutch to go with his championship ring and Rodman won several rings and several rebounding titles. Where I feel like it’s fair to compare Buff to these guys with respect to how his moments will be remembered. His performance against Vancouver this last year will be remembered the same as AJ stealing first. The same way we remember Rodman chucking up awful looking three-pointers during blowouts. Aaron Rowand is a guy who I feel the same way about. He had amazing moments for the Sox on their run to the World Series in 2005 and though his career may ultimately be completely average he will still be a bit of a cult hero in Chicago. Maybe he would’ve been a more fair comparison. Maybe I’m guilty of being swept up in the moment.

      I’ll second your “good luck” to Buff, and more importantly, the RIP to Probey.

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