The pride and joy of Amber and Paul Phaneuf, and the great
hope on the Calgary Flames blueline, Dion
Phaneuf is chomping at the bit, ready to lay the hurt on the NHL.
The hulking Edmonton native has been showing up night in
and night out an hour and a half up Highway 2 for the last two seasons with the
Red Deer Rebels and his hard work and stellar play ensured he’ll keep playing
in Alberta for a long time. Even though the Flames have arguably one of the best
young defense corps in the league, Head Coach and General Manager Darryl Sutter
sees big things for the ninth overall pick.
“When you watch Dion play on that team, he plays half the
game. He outplayed a lot of players that were signed NHL players already,”
beams the man whose younger brother Brent has been imparting young Phaneuf with
knowledge the past two years in Red Deer. “At a young age, he’s still a
project, but a pretty good one.”
The Calgary-based Sutter sees a lot of attributes in
Phaneuf that he covets, a lot of traits that hearken back to the rugged farm
hand mentality all six brothers in the well-known hockey family espouse. Phaneuf
looks out for his teammates, he looks out for himself, he has a vicious mean
streak and he comes to play every night.
“Number one, he’s a great competitor, you can tell he
loves to play,” explained the Flames’ bench boss. “He makes mistakes
because he’s not afraid to make a mistake. That’s usually the sign of a guy
who loves what he’s doing and thinks a lot of what he’s trying to
Phaneuf is quick to acknowledge that the Flames blueline
won’t be the easiest to step into, however he’s got his sights set on more
immediate changes that need to take place.
“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do and I’m
proud to be a Flame. I grew up an Oiler fan… now that I’m a Flame, I’ll
have to change that,” laughed the 18-year-old.
A player who entered the draft with lofty comparisons, many
seeing him as a future Scott Stevens, he has no illusions about what got him
picked and what the Flames will be expecting from him. He’s a bruiser, a
workhorse and a leader. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I take pride in the way I play my style of game, it’s
a physical game,” explained the imposing 6’2”, 200 lbs. rearguard.
“I’m a guy teams hate to play against.”
He delivers when it counts as well. In the 2003 CHL Top
Prospects game, Phaneuf caught a glimpse of an opposing player coasting along,
head down. What followed was the crown jewel for the evening’s highlight
reels, a hit so huge it is the one dominant image many have of Phaneuf. The
player he laid out? Marc-Antoine Pouillot,
the first round selection of the Flames bitter rivals from northern Alberta, the
Edmonton Oilers. A fitting bit of foreshadowing if ever there was one.
“It was definitely a big hit. He had his head down and I
just stepped up and I caught him,” explained Phaneuf.
It’s an explanation he’s offered many times before and
one Flames fans will likely be hearing for years to come.