SUN Hockey Pool

Dion's got it covered

Dion Phaneuf of the Calgary Flames gets outfitted in a motion-capture (mocap) suit to have his...

Dion Phaneuf of the Calgary Flames gets outfitted in a motion-capture (mocap) suit to have his hockey moves recorded by game maker Electronic Arts, in Burnaby, B.C., Tuesday, September 9, 2008. (Sun Media/Rob Kruyt)

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 12:27 AM ET

Dion Phaneuf has crashed, bashed and scored his way to becoming one of the faces of the Calgary Flames.

This summer, the rising star defenceman took it up a notch, becoming one of the faces for the whole NHL.

After three seasons, Phaneuf -- one of the many players back in town for today's charity golf tournament at Heritage Pointe -- has moved into a larger spotlight.

He's the cover boy for the EA Sports NHL '09 video game, which is being released today.

That's on top of taking part in a New York City media tour last week with 13 other stars, including Sidney Crosby, Martin Brodeur, Vincent Lecavalier, Rick Nash, Jonathan Toews and Rick DiPietro.

"It was really well organized. Definitely worth the trip," said Phaneuf, one of the Flames players gathered at the Saddledome yesterday to meet their groups for today's golf tourney. "It was good to get a lot accomplished in a couple of days."

Sure, his trip to New York was a chance to catch up with friends from around the league and meet other NHLers for the first time, but there was serious business to attend to over the two days, mainly promoting the league.

Players did on-camera interviews with the NHL Network, plus video spots for national rights holders such as TSN, NBC and Versus.

They also did sit-down interviews with NHL.com and NHL Radio and photo shoots for NHL Images.

But a trip to the Big Apple can't be all work and no play. Several of the players went to see the season premier of Entourage.

Phaneuf was part of the crew that took in some of the U.S. Open tennis.

"A lot of fun," he said. "When you see another professional sport, it's one thing to watch it on TV, but when you see it live, you definitely have a whole new respect for it. That's a fast game. It was a real good experience."

And not the only one from this summer that's thrust the 23-year-old into eyes of hockey fans everywhere.

Being on the cover of a video game has gone beyond just having a picture taken.

"Quite the experience to be there and get to see the technology that goes into games and play the game," he said.

"They keep getting more and more real. The technology that goes into it -- being hooked up to all these motion sensors when you're shooting the puck and hitting and everything, and then you're on a screen in an animated form. It's pretty cool to see the technology behind it all."

And how realistic is it?

"The fighting part of it is unbelievable, the graphics in it," he said. "I think hockey fans are really going to enjoy playing this one."

A bigger question is whether Flames fans will enjoy the coming campaign. The team has a very good core of high-end vets with the likes of Jarome Iginla and Daymond Langkow up front and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff on top of a solid defence corps.

What remains to be seen is what impact the plethora of new players, namely Todd Bertuzzi, Mike Cammalleri, Rene Bourque and Curtis Glencross, will have.

Phaneuf has high hopes.

"Very exciting to see the new faces. We made some really good moves, and just from talking to the new guys, everyone's excited to get camp going," he said. "As a group, I think we've definitely improved."

Even though he's coming off a hugely successful season in terms of personal accolades, Phaneuf is expected to take his game to a new level, which is already starting from a high point seeing as he was runner-up to Nicklas Lidstrom for the Norris Trophy and a first team all-star.

He feels the same way.

"I want to keep getting better, keep learning," said Phaneuf, who had 17 goals and 43 assists last season.

"My goal since day one of my first training camp was to keep getting better and learn from the older guys in our room. That hasn't changed.

"I want to keep improving."


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