Fabulous Phaneuf

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:22 AM ET

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Considering the names on the list, it almost seemed an aberration. Sportsnet's Internet power poll asked who's been Canada's best player at the world junior hockey championship.

Most of the names figured to be obvious choices for the untrained eye: Phenom Sidney Crosby, NHLer Patrice Bergeron, captain Mike Richards, power forward Jeff Carter and first-liner Corey Perry.

Yet, for a long time, the leader -- as chosen by fans from coast to coast -- was defencman Dion Phaneuf.

Granted, it wouldn't be the first time fans have hijacked a poll but seeing as Phaneuf hadn't even registered a point in the first two games of the tournament it's also a testament to what the defenceman, who is the Calgary Flames' top prospect, offers.

"Play with him and you really appreciate what he brings to the table," said Calgary Hitmen forward Andrew Ladd. "You still respect him going against him but getting to play with him, you realize how good of a player he is. He makes the game easier for you."

A prime example of how Phaneuf has developed into a total package was on display in last night's 9-0 thrashing of Germany.

Facing the kind of game that could be cause for concern -- a weak link 24 hours after Canada laid a serious beating on Sweden -- Phaneuf was one of those donning the Maple Leaf who ensured there would be no cause for alarm.

A couple of shifts into the tilt, he laid a couple of licks on opposing players to let it be known in no uncertain terms the Germans weren't going to be taken lightly.

He then proceeded to fire a point shot that Clarke MacArthur deflected to make it 2-0.

An assist came on the next goal, too. Also the fifth.

On top of all that, the Red Deer Rebels standout was instrumental in ensuring Canada's penalty killers were perfect.

Oh yeah, he also decked Moritz Muller with a thunderous check late in the second period to give the crowd something else to celebrate. When the buzzer sounded, he was named Canada's player of the game.

Still Phaneuf, who certainly would be toiling in the Stampede City if the NHL wasn't in a lockout, took it all in stride.

"If the points come, they come but first and foremost my job is to keep the puck out of the net," he stated almost without emotion.

However, that business-like demeanour -- almost a cold-hearted, methodic professionalism -- is the perfect approach to games like last night's. And it will also be the case during tomorrow's round-robin finale against Finland.

Let's face it, until games are winner-take-all, the toughest test when Canada takes to the ice will be the mental battle.

"Brent (Sutter) had emphasized how big every game is in a short-term event like this," Phaneuf said of his head coach both in Red Deer and at this tourney. "Every game you go into, you have to go with the mindset it's going to be a tough, hard-fought game and that's what we did. We don't want to stop.

"We've been a team that's had the foot on the gas pedal from the start of camp and we're not taking it off."


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