Phaneuf making most of time with Red Deer

By Aaron Vickers

While the National Hockey League lockout may be a frustrating time for fans, players and club executives alike, there’s always a silver lining around each gray cloud. For fans of the Red Deer Rebels, the lockout has brought more pain and punishment, but in their eyes, it’s a plus. This isn’t because the small town just north of Calgary, Alberta is sadist. It’s because the ones receiving the pain and punishment happen to be those that step foot into the Enmax Centre and face the Red Deer Rebels, and their leader, Dion Phaneuf.

It is believed that Phaneuf would have been suiting up with regularity for the Calgary Flames had there not been an NHL lockout, which wiped out the entire 2005-06 schedule. Phaneuf, one of few prospects who were signed before the expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and sent back to junior, isn’t bothered by the fact that he hasn’t yet found himself on an NHL roster.

“Well, you’re disappointed but on the other hand, people ask me am I disappointed, and I answer no, because I’m playing through the lockout and a lot of guys aren’t,” explained Phaneuf.

And spending another season under Red Deer Rebels executive Brent Sutter has done anything but hurt the development of the blueliner, who Sutter himself has said is the best defenseman in Rebels history, impressive considering the likes of Jeff Woywitka, Derek Meech, Jim Vandermeer and Doug Lynch are included among Rebel alumni.

Still, though, Phaneuf doesn’t think his extended stay with the Rebels will help him get a feel for what he might come to expect from future bench boss and Calgary Flames General Manager Darryl Sutter, brother of Brent.

“They’re brothers, but I’m sure they coach differently,” Phaneuf said.

At the same time, Phaneuf isn’t concerning himself with any potential role with the Calgary Flames, content with focusing on what he needs to do in order to propel his team deep within the Western Hockey League playoffs, no small order considering they’ve been matched up against the Medicine Hat Tigers in the first round.

“I’ve got to worry about Calgary when I get there, and I’ve got to work hard to get there.” said Phaneuf, the Flames ninth overall selection in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. “For now I’ll concentrate on what’s happening with the Red Deer Rebels.”

Though it’s clear Phaneuf is focused mainly on the immediate future, he has no hesitations to share his thoughts on his career, on what’s happened in the past, as well as what will be the not-so-distant future.

After a heartbreaking loss at the hands of the Americans in the gold medal game of the 2004 World Junior Championships, Phaneuf was a catalyst in ensuring the same would not happen in 2005. The result was Canada’s first gold medal since 1997 at the event, a tournament that saw the club’s assistant captain named a first team all-star.

“We came so close the year before, so to do it this year was something very special,” admitted Phaneuf. “It was tough to lose two years ago but winning it this year was something very special.”

Phaneuf also added that it was not only the medal around his neck that would be held in his memory.

“It was an unbelievable experience, one that I’ll never forget, that’s for sure. Until you’re on a team like that, you just don’t know the friendships and bonds you make over that period of time. It’s something very special.”

Perhaps what should get most Calgary Flames fans excited, though, isn’t talk about the 2005 World Junior Championships, but the rivalry that is hosted several times a season if one just takes a trip on Highway 2, the route that both the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames take in order to play one another.

Phaneuf admits that growing up in Edmonton may have originally swayed his loyalty, but he’s quick to change now that he’ll be wearing the red, yellow and black of the Calgary Flames.

“Anytime you live in Edmonton or Calgary, the battle of Alberta is huge,” smiled Phaneuf. “Now I’m on the other side if it and I’m going to have fun with it. Anytime you can be a part of that rivalry it’s something special.”

It’s the something special that Calgary Flames fans are hoping to see, not just against the Edmonton Oilers, but against every other National Hockey League franchise. It appears that the only thing that can get in the way of Phaneuf at this point, is the fact that there’s no NHL hockey to be played at all.

Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.