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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum Communications Co., Published June 01 2011

Roseau excited about Byfuglien moving closer to home

GRAND FORKS – Dustin Byfuglien is in northwest Minnesota, staying low key, relaxing and fishing.

He might be able to do a lot more of that in the coming years.

On Tuesday, True North Sports and Entertainment announced it had purchased the Atlanta Thrashers and, pending approval from the NHL’s board of governors, it will move the franchise to Winnipeg, Man., this fall.

Byfuglien, a Roseau, Minn., product, has the franchise’s longest and most lucrative contract – a five-year, $26 million deal that he signed last summer. Four years remain on the deal and he will play them out a mere 90 minutes from his hometown, where most of his family resides.

His family members celebrated Tuesday’s news.

“I’ve been on the computer at work every day following the Atlanta paper and the Winnipeg paper,” Byfuglien’s uncle, Dean, said. “We’ve been on top of it. We’re pretty excited. We kind of suspected this would happen last week when Dustin told us that he was pretty sure it was time to start house shopping in Winnipeg.”

It will be a change of climate for Byfuglien, who blossomed into an NHL All-Star in Atlanta, one year after leading the Chicago Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup. But his cousin, Derrick, doesn’t think Dustin will mind the change.

“I think he’s pretty excited about it,” Derrick said. “He’s close to home, close to family. He will be able to get some hunting and fishing in on his off days. When you’re in Atlanta, you have to know somebody who knows somebody.”

Another cousin, former UND defenseman Trevor Hammer, sent Dustin a text message that shovels were on sale.

“He better go get one,” Hammer laughed. “No, he’s in heaven outdoors. That’s one thing he’ll like to do – head to the lake.”

Byfuglien’s relatives already have discussed purchasing season tickets.

“I think he liked Atlanta,” Dean said. “He liked being able to go out and not being recognized. In Chicago, it’s much more of a hockey town and he was a rock star. Winnipeg will be more like that. Last week’s Winnipeg Free Press had a big picture of him. They are waiting and drooling for Big Buff.”

For good reason, too.

Byfuglien scored more goals (20) than any NHL defenseman last season. Only three blue liners tallied more points than he did (53).

The 6-foot-5, 265-pound

26-year-old also has the versatility to play forward as he did with the Blackhawks, but will likely remain on the blue line.

“He’s such a unique creature,” Dean said.

And while Winnipeg celebrated the return of the NHL to its city throughout the day Tuesday, Roseau had its own buzz about the return of its hometown hero to the area.

“I’m just glad he signed a five-year deal,” Derrick said. “He’ll be stuck here for a while.”

Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald