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Before Hawks star hit it big, he got his start in DuPage
By Marco Santana | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/31/2010 5:34 PM | Updated: 5/31/2010 10:12 PM

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Blackhawks fans know Dustin Byfuglien as "Big Buff."

During his formative hockey years, however, Byfuglien had a different nickname.

"'Bubba' or 'Big Bubba,'" said Matt Szypura, a Warrenville resident whose family hosted the Blackhawks star forward during his junior year at Wheaton-Warrenville South High School. "He was a big boy."

That big kid from Roseau, Minn., a small town of about 3,000 in far northern Minnesota near the Canadian border, now stands as a key figure trying to help the Blackhawks bring home their first Stanley Cup since 1961 and end the National Hockey League's longest championship drought.

Two games into the Stanley Cup Finals, the Blackhawks are counting on Byfuglien to come through with some big games, as he has since the postseason began last month.

"Big-time players come through," said Bill Szypura, who along with his wife, Lori, had to make the decision to take in yet another hockey player into their Warrenville home in the summer of 2001.

After a few adjustments in bedrooms, Bill said the decision was a no-brainer.

"He fit in very early and we kind of never looked back," Szypura said.

Byfuglien stayed with the Szypuras for about eight months and became a part of the family, taking part in many family pranks and playing alongside Matt on the Chicago Mission, a AAA team, which prohibited the two from playing on Wheaton-Warrenville's club team.

As a forward, Matt said, Byfuglien definitely befuddled opposing offenses in front of the net even then. Today, he does the same in the NHL.

Not everybody was comfortable when Byfuglien moved here. At 10 years old, Alanna Szypura was forced to share a room with her 15-year-old sister. Alanna noted that the two had some things in common but they were going through different stages in their lives. She said she didn't think it was fair that her brother's teammate forced the move.

However, she said it was easy to get used to once Byfuglien settled in.

"It was just a little different but we got used to it," she said. "He always had this big goofy smile on his face. He was just fun to be around."

Now 26, Matt Szypura still keeps in touch with Byfuglien. Szypura was signed to the International Hockey League's Dayton Gems in December and said he remembers "Big Bubba," a 16-year-old whom the rest of the team wanted to emulate.

"He, by far, probably had, maybe, the most skill out of all of us," he said. "A lot of guys really worked hard just to be like him."