Black Hockey Player From Midwest Helps Bring Stanley Cup to Chicago
The only minority in sports smaller than black hockey players might be obese jockeys, but Dustin Byfuglien of the Chicago Blackhawks beat the odds on June 9 when he hoisted the Stanley Cup after his team beat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3 in overtime.
Byfuglien (pronounced Buff-lin) was born in Minnesota to Norwegian-American Cheryl Byfuglien and African American Ricky Spencer. Growing up in Minnesota and Chicago, Dustin was exposed to hockey and immediately became one of the top players in the region. He also was one of the largest, eventually growing to 6-4, 257 pounds, more linebacker than winger.
The young black hockey player also got a break when his mother married Dale Smedsmo who reached the NHL for four games with the Toronto Maple Leafs and 110 games in the rival World Hockey Association. Having a pro hockey player in the family who knows what it takes to make it to the highest level can only help bring direction to a young athlete. When Smedso met Dustin he saw a large, lazy young teen with a world of hockey talent.
“When I first met him, he was so lazy I wanted to give him a kick in the butt,” Smedsmo recalled to ESPN.com. “I had to get him out of bed. I threw away his cell phone. I was hard on him, but I have nothing but admiration for him.”
Byfuglien doesn’t disagree with Smedsmo’s memory.
“Who wanted to go to work, right?” Byfuglien said to ESPN with a smile. “I was a kid. I didn’t want to get up to work.” He even stopped playing hockey when he was 15 so he could spend the winter ice fishing.
“I probably wouldn’t say I flipped the switch from lazy mode to work-hard mode, I just switched it from lazy to maybe just work a little bit more,” Byfuglien joked.
The work Byfuglien put in to go from the 244th player selected in the 2003 draft to a player who scored 11 goals in the playoffs this year, including five game winners, certainly paid off when he helped bring the first Stanley Cup to Chicago since 1961.
Byfuglien began his professional career as a defenseman, but he was moved to the wing at the start of the 2007-2008 season to provide a big body in front of the net. Since then he has scored 51 regular season goals plus 14 in the playoffs while running interference for younger, smaller linemates Patrick Kane and Jonathan Towes. His two goals in game five of the finals helped turn the tide in the Blackhawks favor before the team put the Flyers away in game six. Byfuglien also scored Chicago’s first goal in the clincher.
His ability to play defense paid off late in the regular season when the Hawks were hit with several injuries to regular defensemen. Byfuglien moved to the blue line in mid game and stayed there for two weeks, helping Chicago earn the second seed in the Western Conference.
“We like his size, we like his patience with the puck, [and] he’s physical,” Blackhawk coach Joel Quenneville said. “Every time he’s out there things happen.”
Indeed, the 257 pound Byfuglien has turned the crease into his office and no one has been able to evict him for long. He has become a role model for black hockey players who hope to one day have an impact in the NHL.