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Ladd, Byfuglien continue to hold ties to Hawks

by Brian Hedger
CHICAGO -- One of the first things that Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien did upon arriving at the United Center was look up.

The former Chicago Blackhawks took a good look at what they each helped accomplish in the Windy City in 2010 -- which is now commemorated by a Stanley Cup banner, the fourth in Hawks history.

"I checked it out," said Ladd -- now the captain of the Winnipeg Jets, who will play the Blackhawks on Thursday night (8:40 p.m., TSN). "Every (national anthem in Chicago) I kind of looked that way toward those banners. So, to see that (fourth) one up there … it was pretty neat."

Byfuglien thought so, too.

"Yeah, I went up there and took a peek," he said. "(The banner's) still pretty white up there … looks good."

Many Hawks fans think Byfuglien and Ladd would still look good wearing Chicago's famed Indian head logo. The last time each of them did, it was during a raucous victory parade in the summer of 2010 that drew an estimated 2 million people downtown.


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Ladd was nursing a fractured shoulder at the time, which he played through it in the Cup Final against the Philadelphia Flyers. Byfuglien, meanwhile, made a little fashion statement with his lime green Kermit the Frog tennis shoes and "rock star" sunglasses.

That was the last Hawks fans saw of Ladd and Byfuglien in Chicago. Not long afterward, Byfuglien became the key piece in a multi-player deal with the former Atlanta Thrashers and Ladd later joined him there in a separate deal.

Now they're back in town as key players for the Jets, with Ladd wearing the captain's 'C' and Byfuglien wearing an alternate's 'A' on his sweater. In the hockey realm, a lot of time has passed since they won the Cup with the Hawks, but just being back in the Windy City has brought the good memories flooding back.

"It's a little weird, but it's definitely fun to be back and see a lot of familiar faces and people I haven't seen in a long time," Ladd said. "It's going to be a fun night for us. A few of us went out for dinner (Wednesday) night, so it was fun to see those knuckleheads and catch up a little bit and see what they've been up to."

They'll get another chance to meet up on the ice on Thursday, but there probably won't be many pleasantries exchanged -- at least not if the 6-foot-5, 265-pound Byfuglien has his way.

Byfuglien is now playing along the blue line, as opposed to camping in front of goalies like he did for the Hawks for most of the 2010 playoffs, but he'll still get plenty of chances to lean on his former teammates physically.

Will he be able to do it against them with the same fervor as he does against the rest of the League?

"Everything heals," Byfuglien said. "You've got a job to do. You've got go and play. Hitting them and knocking them down is part of the job. I'm not afraid to run anybody and knock these guys around a little bit."

Nor is he planning to let up any on his slap shot.

"I hope they've got their good shin pads on," Byfuglien said, smiling.

Don't let the tough talk fool you, though. After the game, Byfuglien and Ladd will go right back to their friendships with the Hawks who are still around from that 2010 season. It's a bond they proudly share, no matter what uniforms they're wearing now.

"We talk a lot," Byfuglien said. "Once a week at least, I still talk to someone on the team. We've stuck together pretty well and everyone's pretty good buddies. We see each other a lot in the summertime. (Winning the Cup) just brought everyone closer and everyone was here for so long together that we just grew together and we still stay buddies."

Byfuglien has a big role in that relationship. His smile, personality and jovial nature in the locker room are almost as big as his 6-foot-5, 265-pound body. The Hawks still laugh when asked about him -- especially when recalling the pranks he'd pull to keep everybody on their toes.
"The one thing I think about when I hear about Dustin Byfuglien is that big smile that he's got," Hawks forward Patrick Sharp said. "You know … he's Big Buff. He's so intimidating on the ice and plays hard, but he's a big teddy bear off the ice. Everyone loves him and he gets along with everyone in the room."

Fans in Chicago loved him, too. His jersey was always one of the most popular, but Byfuglien hasn't seen any Hawks sweaters with his name on the back this week.

"Hopefully I see a couple come out of the closet tonight," Byfuglien said. "I miss the people (in Chicago). This is the first time I've been back since (being traded). Not too much has changed. They're still the same people. Everything's good."
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