Dion Phaneuf put his heart and soul into Canada's gold-medal win at the world juniors and etched his name on the international stage. Today, Sun hockey writer Scott Fisher finds out how the fiery Red Deer Rebels star and Flames draft pick got to where he is now.
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The warning signs were evident. Even at a young age, it was clear Dion Phaneuf was going to develop into a fearless, physical presence on the ice.
His bedroom at his childhood home in Edmonton was, and still is, adorned with hockey paraphernalia from ceiling to floor, including his grandfather Ron MacArthur's old junior hockey jersey.
One day, his mom Amber decided the sweater needed to be cleaned.
"We were going to get it cleaned," his mom recalls. "And Dion said 'make sure you don't take the blood stains out.' "
Ah, yes. Those are the kinds of words that would surely bring a smile to the face of the Sutters -- his current coach, Brent, with the WHL's Red Deer Rebels and his future boss, Darryl, with the Calgary Flames.
Along with his tireless work ethic, of course.
"He used to go down in the basement and shoot puck upon puck upon puck," Amber says. "He had set up his own locker underneath the stairs and had his name on it and everything.
"It was quite funny, it was his little locker-room."
As the youngster's shot rapidly developed, his dad Paul was forced to make some renovations.
"I had to make a net for the basement because he would destroy those Canadian Tire nets," Paul says. "I was tired of going to Canadian Tire and buying those so I built my own nets -- two for the outdoor rink and a smaller one for the basement.
"When he was around five years old, he'd be down there shooting his pucks and if you snuck down there, he'd be broadcasting his own make-believe game.
"He'd even have certain people sitting out serving penalties."
If there had been a referee, young Dion would likely have been the one banished to the sin bin, especially out on the backyard rink where family members weren't off limits.
"I always had to put my shin pads on because he was always slashing me," Paul says. "He was an aggressive kid right from the get go. He loved the game and he always played like it meant something.
"He would always try to put me into the snowbank. At 13 and 14, I was still able to overpower him but at 15 or 16, he was already looking down on me and I was starting to take tumbles into the snow."
Whether it was in his own backyard or at an outdoor community rink, young Dion was hooked on the game right from the start.
Paul once left a six-year-old Dion at a rink with a few neighbours and came back a few hours later. His son was not ready to leave.
"Finally, the sun was going down, so I went back and he was still playing with older players. I had to physically pick him up and carry him off the ice. I remember him kicking and flailing and crying because he wanted to stay.
"I got him into the car and about three minutes later, he was sound asleep. I left him in the car. I didn't want to wake a sleeping lion so he slept in the garage with his skates on.
"He had a serious appetite for it even then."
The only thing Dion liked almost as much as playing hockey was watching it. He looked forward to going to Edmonton Oilers games with his dad.
"Every time we'd go to a game, we'd go there as a pair but I'd end up watching the game from my seat alone. I'd look down and Dion would be sitting down behind the Oilers bench talking to the trainer," Paul says.
"He'd always talk his way into the dressing room. I'd always be waiting for him to come out and the security guys would say 'what are you doing here?' Eventually, they knew me on a first-name basis.
"He'd come out of there with his pockets full with all the different colours of tape. He'd bring them home and hang them up on nails above his bench where he'd work on his sticks."
Shortly after watching her son's dominating performance at the world junior tournament in which TSN analyst Pierre McGuire dubbed Phaneuf's numerous bone-crushing hits as 'a Dion,' Amber Phaneuf insists there's another side to the teenager many hockey experts have tabbed as the best defensive prospect in junior hockey.
It's a side opposing forwards never get to see.
"If you know Dion, he has a soft, sensitive side, too," she says. "He's very family oriented.
"Not a night goes by that he doesn't phone us or his brother. He's very good to his little brother."
Amber and Paul, along with their younger son Dane, have been regulars at the Red Deer Centrium the past four seasons. The close-knit family, which heads to a cottage on P.E.I. every summer, missed just two games last season.
The Phaneufs, with 30 friends and extended family members, spent the past few weeks in North Dakota, watching Dion bring home world junior gold.
His maternal grandmother, who resides in Maryland, had never seen her grandson lace up the blades until the semifinal game against the Czechs.
"She was so proud," Amber says. "Her eyes just swelled up."
Dion's Red Deer billets, Dan and Christine Doyle, who have become close friends with the Phaneufs, were also in attendance.
"It's been wonderful," Christine says of having Dion in her house the last four years. "He's part of the family.
"Dion's like a normal 19-year-old. We don't make special rules for Dion.
"He's very independent. We just make sure everything is here."
The Team Canada d-man needed his family and friends at the world junior tourney -- if only to carry all of his hardware back home.
"He sent his player-of-the-game trophy and his top defenceman award home to Edmonton with us," his mom says.
How about the gold medal?
"No, that stayed on his neck and I don't think he took it off for days. I'm sure it's with him right now."
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2003 NHL DRAFT
The Flames nabbed Dion Phaneuf ninth overall, considered a steal by many
1. MARC-ANDRE FLEURY, G Pittsburgh
2. ERIC STAAL, C Carolina
3. NATHAN HORTON, C Florida
4. NIKOLAI ZHERDEV, LW Columbus
5. THOMAS VANEK, LW Buffalo
6. MILAN MICHALEK, RW San Jose
7. RYAN SUTER, D Nashville
8. BRAYDON COBURN, D Atlanta
9. DION PHANEUF, D Calgary
10. ANDREI KASTITSYN, RW Montreal
11. JEFF CARTER, C, Philadelphia
12. HUGH JESSIMAN, RW NY Rangers
13. DUSTIN BROWN, RW Los Angeles
14. BRENT SEABROOK, D Chicago
15. ROBERT NILSSON, RW NY Islanders
16. STEVE BERNIER, RW San Jose
17. ZACH PARISE, C New Jersey
18. ERIC FEHR, RW, Washington
19. RYAN GETZLAF, C Anaheim
20. BRENT BURNS, RW Minnesota
21. MARK STUART, D Boston
22. MARC-ANTOINE POULIOT, C Edmonton
23. RYAN KESLER, C Vancouver
24. MIKE RICHARDS, C Philadelphia
25. ANTHONY STEWART, C Florida
26. BRIAN BOYLE, C, Los Angeles
27. JEFF TAMBELLINI, LW Los Angeles
28. COREY PERRY, RW Anaheim
29. PATRICK EAVES, RW Ottawa
30. SHAWN BELLE, D, St. Louis