Saddledome faithful cold as Ice

SCOTT FISHER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:53 AM ET

John Negrin knows exactly what Dion Phaneuf went through.

As a teenager -- and the Calgary Flames' hottest prospect -- Phaneuf was adored at the Saddledome while playing with the NHL club during pre-season games.

A couple of weeks later, he was being booed in the same building -- as a member of the WHL's Red Deer Rebels.

Negrin is going through the same scenario.

The Vancouver product played in a couple of pre-season games with the Flames in September.

One day after being sent back to his junior club, he returned to the 'Dome as a member of the Kootenay Ice.

"Yeah, I went through the same thing last year, too," Negrin said of transforming from a hero to a villain in less than 24 hours.

"But it's really not that bad. Once you're out there, you try to focus on your game, and you try not to worry about the crowd too much."

But the Hitmen crowd won't make it easy. There are few teams the junior hockey faithful love to hate more than Negrin's Ice.

And there's the added pressure of wanting to play well in Calgary, where he knows he's being watched.

"For sure, there is," Negrin said. "There will definitely be eyes on me, obviously.

"But (the scouts) have been to a lot of my games this year. They usually come and talk to me after the game.

"But you don't want to change your game. You just want to have fun, play your game and not change too much."

The Ice haven't fared well in the Stampede City in recent years. The Hitmen's 6-2 win Monday night was Kootenay's seventh straight setback at the Saddledome.

But the Ice, who host the Hitmen Friday night in Cranbrook, are still in second spot in the Central Division at 10-8-2-3.

"We're a young team, and I think it took a while for the young guys to settle in," said the third-round pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.

"But, as of late, we've been playing well. We're getting better each game and our record is improving."

And, since he's already started down the same path, the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder would love to follow in Phaneuf's footsteps by making the jump to the big leagues next year.

"Camp was very exciting," Negrin said. "It was my second year. You feel more comfortable because you know more faces."

After a solid pre-season performance with the big club, Negrin returned to Cranbrook feeling pretty good about his game.

"Each year you play in this league, you're a year older and you gain more confidence," he said. "Going to a pro camp, everything is so much faster. Everyone is so much smarter.

"Coming back to Kootenay, I have that added confidence of knowing I can play with those guys."


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