SUN Hockey Pool

Phaneuf lives up to billing

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:23 AM ET

The stare is piercing. Not like that seen from Mark Messier in the days he intimidated players with a glance but there's no doubting the intensity or focus.

And it's not hard to miss when spying Dion Phaneuf.

Oh sure, away from the rink, the Flames budding defenceman is like most in their late teens and early 20s, catching shows on the tube and hanging out with his buddies.

At the Saddledome, though, that stare is noticable at all times. Doesn't matter if it's a game or a practice either.

"I'm easy going away from the rink but when I'm here it's business, something you have to keep getting better every day and work at every day," said the prized prospect defenceman. "When you're here, it's all business."

Halfway through Calgary's pre-season schedule -- which starts up again tonight (7 p.m., 'Dome) when the Vancouver Canucks meet the Flames in the first of three games in three nights -- Phaneuf has delivered as advertised.

He's been a physical presence, sending Edmonton forward Raffi Torres to the ice a few times with punishing checks as well as Chicago's young standout Tuomo Ruutu on a couple of occasions.

He's been strong defensively.

He's delivered potent point shots.

He's even got under the skin of opponnants, proven by the fact both Georges Laraque and Chris Pronger took extra shots at him in Friday night's meeting with the Oilers.

Not many youngsters would be eager to stand up to those giants but Phaneuf was more than willing to ensure he introduced himself, not to prove a point but simply because that's the way the game is played.

"I have to play that way to be effective," said the 6-ft. 2-in., 210-lb. Phaneuf, who turned 20 in April. "I can't be a guy who's a fancy player. I have to be a guy who plays the body and plays that physical style of game.

"It's a big part of my game, to be a guy other teams hate to play against. That may mean they're giving you a shot here or there but I just play my game and take pride in other guys hating to play against me."

While Phaneuf has landed in the NHL ranks with the reputation as a big hitter, there's a side to his game Flames fans will also come to enjoy.

His shot.

Clocked well above the 90 m.p.h. range, Phaneuf's blistering point shot is something the club has lacked for years. This season, Roman Hamrlik's bomb from the point will be seen more often but it's just a matter of time before Phaneuf is tallying on the powerplay, too.

Flames GM/head coach Darryl Sutter said Phaneuf's ability to fire pucks, not only with velocity but quickly, is due to his agility.

"It's not just about shooting. It's getting the puck in a shooting position and getting the angle to shoot at before you get the puck," Sutter explained.

"It's also not just about your hands, a lot of it has to do with your feet. Because of the way he positions his feet, he's able to shoot."

That would help explain the 24 goals Phaneuf tallied in 55 games during his last season of junior with the Red Deer Rebels.

For the record, Phaneuf was tied for the team lead in each of the last two games with four shots on goal.


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