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Coach, teammates defend Byfuglien's conditioning

Friday, 09.16.2011 / 4:30 PM / NHL Insider

By Patrick Williams - NHL.com Correspondent

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Coach, teammates defend Byfuglien's conditioning
Byfuglien's coach and teammates defended his conditioning after the first day at the Winnipeg Jets' training camp.
WINNIPEG -- Dustin Byfuglien could not speak in depth about the legal questions that have been associated with him since last month's boating incident in Minnesota, but his teammates and coach did plenty of talking in his defense.

Byfuglien and his Winnipeg Jets teammates underwent physicals and fitness testing Friday at the MTS Centre, and this was Byfuglien's first time answering questions from the media since the incident.

He was arrested Aug. 31 in Minnesota for suspicion of boating while impaired and faces criminal charges because he refused to provide a blood or urine sample. Legal considerations prevented Byfuglien from discussing details of the arrest, though he acknowledged he regretted the situation.

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Byfuglien did confront questions surrounding his weight, which became a topic of consideration in the wake of the arrest after a report circulated that Byfuglien was more than 30 pounds above his listed playing weight. He did not, however, reveal the weight at which he reported to camp Friday.

"I have no problem with my weight," Byfuglien said. "They're obviously happy with my weight."

That contention was backed up by Noel.

"He looked great," coach Claude Noel said. "He looks fit."

Noel also does not anticipate that the legal issues will create any difficulties in Byfuglien traveling between Canada and the United States. The Jets have preseason road games outside of Canada against Columbus and Carolina this month and open their regular-season road schedule in Chicago on Oct. 13.

Fellow Minnesotan Mark Stuart also defended Byfuglien's conditioning. The pair trained together this summer in Edina, Minn., alongside several other players.

"I know he is in good shape," Stuart said. "I saw Dustin on pretty much a daily basis. I don't think he would be as good a player [at a different weight]. I've never seen someone as strong or powerful."

Stuart recalled the morning following Byfuglien's arrest.

"He felt bad about it," Stuart said. "Dustin is the kind of guy who doesn't like to be in the spotlight, especially with something negative like that. He's just a guy who does his job."

Winnipeg captain Andrew Ladd, teammates with Byfuglien dating to their days with the Chicago Blackhawks, provided his perspective on Byfuglien's fitness.

"I think it's something people have liked to talk about since he was in Chicago," Ladd said. "He looks the same to me. I don't think I've ever had a problem with Buff, fitness-wise.

"You look at him and maybe think one thing, but you see him on the ice and see what he does at his size, and the speed that he has and what he can do, and it has never been a problem for me. He looks good, and once he gets on the ice, you'll see what he can do."

Noel expects his 26-year-old defenseman to be a major part of the Winnipeg blue line this season. One step will be to tweak certain areas of Byfuglien's game to round him into a more complete player.

"He is one of the stallions in the corral," Noel said. "We'd like to build off what he did last year. Dustin is a good player. The thing for us to determine is what is his ‘A game' and can we get him to play consistently in that game that helps us. I would like him to be an efficient player, which is pretty much what we're going to demand from all players."

Ladd echoed Noel's thoughts and provided the perspective of a long-time teammate. The inherent fan and media pressure in a market like Winnipeg should be an asset to Byfuglien, Ladd reasoned.

"I know he is in good shape. I saw Dustin on pretty much a daily basis. I don't think he would be as good a player [at a different weight]. I've never seen someone as strong or powerful."
-- Mark Stuart

"I know Buff. He's competitive, and he wants to dominate in this league," Ladd said. "I think when he puts his mind to it, he can do it. We need him to be great this year. He's a big part of this team and the driving force for our defense."

Inside the Winnipeg dressing room, Byfuglien is a key piece of the young club's leadership group and has been received warmly by his teammates in the midst of his current difficulties.

"It never fails," Byfuglien said. "Guys never fail to crack a few jokes and get you smiling again."

Although familiar with Byfuglien as a fellow product of the Minnesota hockey scene, Stuart had never played alongside him until joining the organization midway through last season in a trade from the Boston Bruins.

"Dustin is a team guy," Stuart said. "When I got there, I could tell he was good in the room. He's one of our leaders and is going to be a big part of our leadership group."

The Jets begin the on-ice component of training camp Saturday morning, and Byfuglien hopes that the ice will serve as an oasis from his recent distractions.

"I'm just here to play hockey. It's what I do," Byfuglien said. "I'm ready to get going. Summer was long. I'm excited to get going. I love my job. It's something I enjoy doing. I get to bang people around.

"I'm just here to be myself. Once you get to know me, I'm myself and am a good guy. I like to have fun. It's going to be exciting. You guys are going to enjoy the season and enjoy the group of guys that we have around here."

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