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(Above) Dusty Munyer (left) and Bryce King pose for a birthday portrait.

MUNYER'S MITE

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sports Fargo, 58102
Fargo North Dakota 101 5th Street North 58102

Dusty Munyer is a hockey player. As a forward for the Packers, his job is to get the puck in the net by any means necessary. If that involves brutally knocking down opposing defenders in the process, so be it.

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The West Fargo High School senior is a lean, mean skating machine and, for the most part, he's never looked at himself as anything but.

That is, until Bryce King came along. Now, Munyer sees himself as something else, too: a role model.

During a recent home hockey game, the 8-year-old King was chosen as Munyer's Packer Buddy - young skaters who hit the ice with the team and whose names are announced over the loudspeaker. The event only took a few minutes, but the impact could potentially last a lifetime.

"In the 10 minutes with him, I don't know what Dusty said or did, but it stuck," Bryce's mom, Lyn King, said.

Normally, when the game starts and the Packer Buddies leave the ice, that's the end of it. But not for Bryce King: since then, the young hockey fanatic and West Fargo mite hockey player has been enamored with Munyer.

So much so, in fact, that he had a last-minute request for his birthday Dec. 18.

"For the past year, he's been asking for a (Nintendo) DS," Lyn said. "Then he said 'all I want is Dusty. I'd give up my DS if Dusty is at my birthday,'"

Lyn was dumbstruck.

"At the time, I didn't even know Dusty's last name," she said. "And what 18-year-old wants to come to an 8-year-old's birthday party?"

Lyn King got to work calling and e-mailing anyone she could think of. Bryce was trying to get over the loss of a recently-deceased aunt, and Lyn desperately wanted to give him a happy birthday.

"He's normally a very shy kid. My husband (Brian) and I have been pushing him to try extra activities," she said. "Even for him to be out and about has been kind of a struggle."

As time went by without any leads, she finally resorted to the phone book and stumbled across two numbers. She tried the first and someone answered. It was Dusty.

Lyn quickly explained her predicament.

"I said, 'Now this is going to sound strange, but my son was your Packer Buddy, and Dusty said 'oh, Bryce King," Lyn said. "I couldn't believe it. They get different Packer Buddies all the time and he remembered my son's name."

So then Lyn asked if Munyer would be so kind as to come to Bryce's birthday party, and Dusty asked what day it was.

"I said 'Dec. 18,' and he said 'so is mine.' I thought he was joking," Lyn King said.

But Munyer wasn't. Lyn was prepared to blow it off: it was one thing to ask an almost complete stranger to come to her son's birthday party, but something entirely more preposterous when that person had the same birth date.

Munyer said he would love to come.

"It showed so much character of him," Lyn King said.

Bryce King's party took place at the Scheels Center in south Fargo. The Packers boys hockey team was set to face Fargo South at 3:15, and then the Fargo Force were playing later that evening. It was the perfect setting for a boy obsessed with hockey.

After the Packers' game, Bryce King and his friends and family met for the festivities in one of the facility's locker rooms. As the group settled in, Dusty Munyer suddenly appeared.

Bryce King froze. His lip quivered and he forced back tears of joy.

"It was awesome, we almost cried, too," Dusty Munyer's mother, Suzy, said. "(Bryce) was really jacked. I'm trying to take a few pictures and stay out of the way and not cry, all at the same time."

For Bryce King, it was a birthday he'll never forget. For Dusty Munyer, it put things in perspective.

"It definitely is a new experience," he said of being a role model. "You definitely have better behavior, especially around the little kids."

Dusty and Bryce exchanged gifts. The elder got a Scheels gift card and a picture of himself and his apprentice on the blue line that fateful Packer Buddy day. Bryce, meanwhile, opened a present containing a hockey tape, a Packers stocking cap and hockey puck - one of only six currently in existence, Dusty Munyer said.

Lyn King still can't put her finger on why her son became so attached to Dusty Munyer in such a short time. Whatever the case, the evidence is clear. Bryce wouldn't wear his Packer hat he received as a gift from Dusty for fear it would get dirty. Lyn and Brian had to convince their son wearing it would make Dusty happy.

"(The hat) never hits the floor," Lyn said. "He takes really good care of it."

Bryce King's most recent request was a complete list of all of West Fargo's home games, in hopes he could attend to watch his favorite Packer play. Dusty also asked for Bryce's schedule, so he, too, could check out a mite game.

What is so refreshing, Lyn said, is that there still are people that children can look up to. For Bryce King, that's Dusty Munyer.

"If you ask him today what his favorite part of his birthday was, it was that Dusty was there," Lyn King said.

And in retrospect, she still is in awe of how everything came together.

"I truly believe that people come in and out of your life for a reason...and Dusty came into my son's life when he needed him most," she said. "In the little bit I've learned about (Dusty) through my son's eyes, I know he's a wonderful and caring person.

"I could not thank him enough for what he's done. He'll never know how much what he did for my son meant to him."

And whether he likes it or not, Dusty Munyer could have a fan for life.

"Unfortunately, I think Dusty is stuck with my son," Lyn King said, with a laugh.

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