Phaneuf's a cover boy

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:30 AM ET

The accolades have come continuously for Dion Phaneuf in the NHL.

First-round draft choice, Calder Trophy finalist, two all-star selections, Norris Trophy finalist ....

But now the Calgary Flames defenceman has hit the big time.

Phaneuf is the cover boy for the EA Sports NHL 09 video game.

"I'm really excited to be on it. You grow up playing the game, playing all the games, and still do," he said. "It's pretty neat."

As if you can't see Phaneuf's face enough already.

The 23-year-old also has promotional deals with Citizen watches, Red Bull and Under Armour.

After a breather following the Flames elimination at the hands of the San Jose Sharks in the opening round of the NHL playoffs, a vacation to Hawaii -- you can find photos and video of it if you search for him and Elisha Cuthbert, a subject he refuses to discuss -- and time spent in Edmonton training, Phaneuf's on the go again.

He's a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the league's top defenceman, which will be handed out Thursday in Toronto during NHL awards night.

Stanley Cup winner and Detroit Red Wings defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom is the odds-on favourite for the honour, having won it the last two years and five times in the past seven seasons.

Phaneuf wouldn't speculate if he believed he would end Lidstrom's run.

"You just go in and enjoy the experience," said Phaneuf. "It's a big night for the league and a good time. My family came when I was a finalist for the Calder and had a lot of fun."

Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins is the other finalist.

Still, it's a widely held belief Phaneuf will eventually put his name alongside Lidstrom's on that award.

Certainly if his first three seasons are an indication, it's a very good bet. After all, he's collected 54 goals and 159 points through three regular seasons, on top of a highlight reel filled with bone-crunching hits. Plus, he took his game to a new level in the playoffs, collecting three goals and four assists in the seven-games series with the Sharks.

The Flames believe they have a keeper on their hands. Next season is Year 1 of a six-year, US$39-million pact. Such a lucrative deal could be onerous for a young player. Phaneuf doesn't foresee a problem.

"I'll just try to go into it the same way as every season," Phaneuf stated. "I want to keep improving, keep working hard to get better."

However, the burning issue is the Stanley Cup. Like the majority of players, Phaneuf didn't want to watch much playoff action after the Flames were ousted, but he did tune in to some of the final series, which will stoke the fires.

"It was good to see Detroit win. Meecher -- Derek Meech -- and I played together in Red Deer, and Brad Stuart and Mac (Darren McCarty) were here," Phaneuf said. "For Mac to come back like that, it's good to see him win."


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