CHICAGO - Dustin Byfuglien always had the talent. It just took him a while to get himself on the road to the NHL. That it took him from Roseau, Minn., to Chicago, to Canada before ultimately returning to Chicago? It just makes his story unique.
Byfuglien (pronounced BUFF-lin) is a 6-3, 240-pound defenseman for the Chicago Blackhawks, who hosted the Wild on Friday at United Center.
He was born in Minneapolis, but his mother, Cheryl, was from Roseau, and the two moved back there when he was a toddler. Much of his childhood was spent living with Cheryl in a trailer behind his grandparents' home.
Talking to Byfuglien now, it appears he spent many of those years going with the flow. He played hockey because that's what everybody did in Roseau.
Academic ineligibility meant he wouldn't play for the Roseau Rams. But Byfuglien took another route. He left school and came to Chicago to play midget hockey. He played well enough that he was drafted by Prince George of the Western Hockey League.
"I thought, 'Well, it's 72 games a year, why not give it a try?'" he said. "I figured I might as well go have some fun, travel while I can."
Byfuglien played well enough that Chicago took him in the eighth round of the 2003 draft, after he had completed his first year of major junior hockey.
Then he started getting serious. When he was drafted, Byfuglien weighed 275 pounds. Now committed to his career path, Byfuglien worked hard and got both stronger and smaller.
"I got drafted in June, and right after the draft there was a camp [for rookies]," he said after Friday's morning skate. "I had never thought about the NHL, you know? I just kind of played."
An exciting career path was put in front of him, and he grabbed hold.
After three years, Byfuglien was sent to Norfolk of the American Hockey League. Called up to Chicago late in the season, Byfuglien scored his first career goal -- a game-winner -- against Nashville in his first game.
He played 25 games with the Hawks last season but still started this season in Norfolk before being called up Jan. 6. Byfuglien feels like he is finally home, at least in a career sense. Even though that home is a long way from Roseau. And those folks up there who questioned the road he took?
"Right away, when I left, some people weren't happy," Byfuglien said. "But I think everyone really came around. They're like, 'Wow, he actually went ahead and did it!'"
That was then
Determined to give Nikolai Khabibulin a breather after 19 consecutive starts, Chicago coach Denis Savard turned Friday to backup Brian Boucher, who owns a piece of history, some of it at the Wild's expense.
During 2003-04, playing for Phoenix, he set two modern-day NHL records with five consecutive shutouts and a shutout sequence of 332 minutes and 1 second. The fifth shutout came against the Wild at Xcel Energy Center on Jan. 4, 2004.
It cost the Wild two nets. The Hockey Hall of Fame claimed one. Wild assistant general manager Tom Lynn recalled Friday that the Coyotes bought the other.
Boucher has just one shutout since, and it came in his only victory this season. The Wild had its revenge last month, when Mark Parrish got a hat trick on Boucher in an overtime victory at Xcel.