Like a father who saw his kid finally deal with the neighborhood bully, Orland Park hockey coach Darren McClusky said witnessing Dustin Byfuglien take on nemesis Chris Pronger in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals was his finest moment.
McClusky said "Bubba," as Byfuglien is known, arrived from northern Minnesota 10 years "a big, laid-back kid" whose focus and confidence needed fine-tuning.
"He had a lot of talent. It was just whether he was motivated and committed and for a while there he had to figure that out. And it was one of the reasons he was brought here. My job was to get him to move on in hockey because people believed in him and get him in shape," McCluskey said of the now 6 foot, 4 inch, 257 pound Byfuglien.
The stuff Big Buff is doing so well, in particular the stuff he's doing to the Philadelphia Flyers' big man, changed the game for the Hawks and Sunday, and perhaps the Philly psyche, as well.
"He gave it back," McClusky said. "You know, it's been 'The Pronger Show'.. 'The Pronger Show'.. and 'blah blah blah. He's got the edge on Dustin.' Well, Dustin got the edge last night."
If Pronger's post-game sarcasm is to be believed, it was a punishing game that will likely spawn revenge in Game 6.
"Oh, yeah, I'm hurtin'," Pronger said. "I'm day to day with hurt feelings."
Byfuglien's post-game response was a polar opposite:
"He's out there to battle and so am I. I'm going to try and get the best of him and be strong," he said.
That kind of response, said McClusky, means maturity is setting in where immaturity once ruled.
"Look what's happening in your life," he remembers telling Bubba. "Seven, eight years ago, you know, you could be flipping burgers down the street. Now he's turned into a hero."