My Dinner with Dustin

After the recent Winnipeg/Ottawa game, Dustin Byfuglien and Bobby Ryan took some time over dinner to discuss their exclusion from the American Olympic team roster.

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Bobby: Good game tonight, old boy! I really thought we had you on the ropes there in the early going but you made a proper challenge of it!

Dustin: Why thank you, dear rival! You may have emerged victorious but we forced you to earn those two points. Our team isn’t always consistent in manner but we are extremely competitive under the right circumstances!

What circumstances are those?

When we think we have a chance to win, of course!

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Wouldn’t you always presume to have some chance to win? I mean, isn’t that the baseline attitude necessary for a professional athlete?

Indubitably. Though Mr. Burke seemed to question your own competitive desire, didn’t he?


We’ll come back to that. I apologize for the ribbing. We do find ourselves in the same boat, after all. Castaways stuck in a life raft with Keith Yandle and Kyle Okposo.

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Fine with me. Grand gentlemen, all, and frankly better off. If Team USA thinks they have the stuff to medal alongside the Russians, Swedes or Canucks, then they have Titanic-sized delusions.

And we all know what happened to that great ship.

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But to your initial question: Are we to postulate that all athletes have a built-in competitive spirit, a need to win?

I’m not certain it is pre-existing, though that’s intriguing. I mean, I’m no geneticist but maybe there is something during embryonic differentiation that sets our course long before any notions of ribbons or trophies fill our minds.

Nature versus Nuture.

The core of the debate! Our very first taste of competition, that! What a delicious irony.

Ha-ha! As fine as Chateaubriand. We should Google whether or not there is something happing at the zygotic stage-

No, no put your phone away, chum, let’s not sully the wonderment.

As you like. And if we to continue to speculate, then what role Nurture?

Well, our parents are bound to drive us to fulfill their unrealized dreams, aren’t they? It’s inevitable, isn’t it?

I’ve deliberated on this before to no successful resolution. From the day I first stepped on the ice I’ve truly loved hockey. I found freedom on the ice.

Your stepfather wasn’t there in the stands, hectoring you, coaching you, pushing you harder?

Yes, but then he saw promise in me.

Do you think he would have pushed the same way if you had displayed an aptitude for bassoon or watercolors?

I would like to think so but he wasn’t an appreciator of the fine arts. He certainly wasn’t disparaging of them but it wasn’t his world. Had I triumphed on the stage, say, in a production of Rigoletto, he’d know it by the applause or the critical acclaim that might be reported in the local paper but he wouldn’t understand it exactly.

But he knew hockey.


Oh, yes, deeply and passionately. He played, you may recall. I have no resentment towards him for encouraging me in the pursuit of physical excellence.

I have to confess that it’s taking all my will power not to make a joke about your well-publicised conditioning issues.

Robert, you scamp! Don’t you dare. I’ll jab at your quote-unquote lack of intensity again!

Oh, yes, please do! You and I have outscored half the chosen USA roster this season but that’s not evidence enough of our talent.

I can’t even scoff. What’s worse than a scoff?

A chortle?

No, too jolly. I don’t think there’s a name, it’s just a strangled guttural sound in the back of one’s throat.

Like German, something in German.

Yes, quite!

What could they have been thinking? No offense to Brooks Orpik but what kind of role does he fill that you couldn’t? And your teammate, Blake, delightful chap and excellent Mah-jong player though he may be, is hardly a match for my scoring prowess! I know he’s big and strong but who has more points? Why is the basic mathematical reality simply being ignored?!

Now, Robert, you’re making the presumption that the choices are based on science and rationale. These brutes that they let run loose in the front offices of our league, and the national bodies alike, love to throw around words like “intensity” and “truculence” and “physicality” but you and I both know that these concepts are statistical straw men. They’re some kind of fascistic ideal of what a dominant male sportsman should be when in actual fact skill, systemic discipline and time of possession are far better indicators of success.

May I just mention too that we play on these larger ice surfaces so infrequently that the management’s research into a player’s effectiveness in said environment amounts little more than a vigorous shake of a Magic 8 Ball!

Indeed. Speaking of 8-ball, would you like to indulge in some billiards later?

Certainly, yes! For the briefest of moments I thought you were going to offer me cocaine!

Well, we’ll see where the night takes us.

Dustin, you’re incorrigible!

I’m glad you haven’t lost your sense of humour through all of this, Robert. You’re the better man.

And you, sir. A toast to our mutual playoff success!

Next year, you mean!

Sadly, yes. We’ll get there, old chum.

I never doubted you for a minute.

By the way, have you seen the latest Kiarostami film? It’s a triumph!

I haven’t. Tell me all about it over billiards…