SUN Hockey Pool

That's one tough kid

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:53 AM ET

Peering through a left eye filled with blood and underlined by stitches on a dark blue background, Bill Guerin did the math.

"I was figuring out that if he's 20, he was five or six when I broke into the league," said the 34-year-old Dallas winger, wearing a freshly minted battle scar courtesy of Dion Phaneuf's fists.

"I'm pretty impressed with him -- he's a pretty tough kid. He's got a good reputation coming into the league. You can tell he is a good player and he's going to be around a long time."

On a banner-raising night when few other Flames showed any of the passion that took the Flames to the West Conference championship in 2004, it took a 20-year-old rookie to inject life into a sagging squad.

Down 2-1 late in the second period and mounting no semblance of a comeback effort in their highly-anticipated home opener, Phaneuf elected to introduce himself to his new fans by introducing himself to Guerin.

And with a sold-out crowd that included Dan Aykroyd standing on its feet, the youngster finished the tussle with a decisive victory over the Stars power forward that included several good shots to the face.

As they were separated, the 205-lb. Phaneuf said the veteran told him: "Good work, kid."

Guerin, perhaps dazed by the beating, remembers it slightly differently.

"I said, 'You caught me with a good one,' " said the 6-ft. 2-in., 220-lb. Guerin, well aware Phaneuf dropped the gloves in an attempt to spark his club.

"That's leadership quality and I have no problem with that. I don't mind that whatsoever. Those things happen. It's part of the game. You win some, you lose some. Sometimes you get a black eye and sometimes you don't. That's just the way the game goes."

The game wasn't going well for the Flames to that point at all, exhibiting none of the jump, the spark, the emotion and the big hits that propelled the Flames to the playoffs last season.

However, his scrap set up a third-period rally that saw Chuck Kobasew tie it late before Chris Simon was robbed of the game-winner by Marty Turco's glove.

With tickets sold out for almost every game, the fans have done their part. The onus is now on the players to do theirs.

Other than Phaneuf, so far they haven't, putting in lacklustre efforts like the one that saw the club sleep through two periods last night before mounting an ill-fated comeback spoiled in overtime by a 3-2 loss.

Given a golden opportunity to turn around a humbling start by feeding off a crowd buzzing from the opening ceremonies, the Flames put in another ho-hum effort that gave the crowd little to cheer about.

That is, until The Kid stepped up.

Used once again as the quarterback on the powerplay, Phaneuf's efforts extended right through OT when he was afforded a regular shift and then some, as he has in all five games so far.

However, despite his efforts, the Flames' slow start ultimately caught up to them in the extra frame when Phillippe Boucher became the second player on the night to beat Miikka Kiprusoff cleanly.

Just as Phaneuf's first goal was overshadowed in Colorado by a loss, so too was his first fight -- a moment Flames fans and his teammates won't soon forget.

The Flames may have lost the game but they've gained a real winner -- a leader -- a lot sooner than most thought.

He's a guy who knows all about championship banners -- and if more of his teammates took his lead, the next one to be raised at the 'Dome could in fact be the one the Flames fell one win short of.


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