SUN Hockey Pool

Phaneuf remains a big hit

Calgary Flames defenceman Dion Phaneuf collides with Vancouver Canucks' Gordie Dwyer during...

Calgary Flames defenceman Dion Phaneuf collides with Vancouver Canucks' Gordie Dwyer during pre-season NHL action at the Pengrowth Saddledome Tuesday, Sept 19, 2006. (Calgary Sun/Jim Wells)

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:45 AM ET

Dion Phaneuf didn't wait long to let fans know there would be no sophomore jinx.

Less than a minute, in fact.

Playing his first game of the pre-season, the second-year Calgary Flames defenceman rocked Vancouver Canucks winger Gordie Dwyer with an open-ice hit some 40 seconds into the opening period, drawing a roar from the Saddledome crowd.

If not for a pair of offensive phenoms named Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, Phaneuf would have won rookie of the year in a landslide thanks to highlights similar to the one he set the tone with last night -- many of which were seen in a Jumbotron montage during a pause in the opening period -- as the Flames eked out a 3-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks.

"Ten seconds into the game, he laid that guy out and it set the tempo for the whole game," said Tony Amonte, who scored the Flames' first goal.

"He's a great player, he proved it last year and he's only gonna get better."

Phaneuf kept up the physical labour as if in midseason form, pasting the Canucks' young forwards to the boards at every opportunity.

"He plays with passion. He plays hard. He plays one way," said Flames head coach Jim Playfair.

"I think he found his pace probably after the first period and played really responsible and strong."

The 21-year-old nearly had the Flames' first goal of the night, too. Coasting into the slot while on the powerplay later in the opening frame, Phaneuf took a nice feed from Amonte and snapped a quick shot destined for the corner of the Canucks net only to be denied by Wade Flaherty's glove.

He made up for it with a timely pinch on the boards late in the game, earning an assist on Adam Cracknell's winning goal with 3:33 to play in the third.

Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr ate up ice time in their 2006 debuts, each playing more than 30 minutes. The duo should provide a lot of excitement as the Flames' top pairing on the back end. But with Rhett Warrener leaving the contest in the second period with a "bump on the knee" not thought to be too serious, Playfair had to mix up his combinations.

Looking to rebound from a personally disappointing campaign, Amonte looked fresh and determined playing on a line with Byron Ritchie and rookie Dustin Boyd. The trio provided most of the offensive opportunities for the Flames.

The game looked bound for overtime until Adam Cracknell beat goaltender Drew MacIntyre with a great wrist shot coming out of the corner.

Daymond Langkow's late goal rounded out the scoring.


Photos