SUN Hockey Pool

Phaneuf gives it a try

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:00 PM ET

Edmonton's Dion Phaneuf is destined to be a story about a local boy who makes good.

Unfortunately for the Edmonton Oilers - and 28 other NHL teams, for that matter - it isn't a success story that will unfold here in the hometown of the strapping defenceman, but down the road with the Calgary Flames.

Where the Oilers and their fans are concerned, Phaneuf's tale is about the one who got away, the local lad who's on the other side in the ongoing Battle of Alberta. He's one of them.

Score one for the bad guys.

"To be practising with the guys we have, it's pretty neat," smiled the barely out of his teens Phaneuf, who took the ice at Rexall Place last night looking to earn a job on a deep Calgary blueline.

"You come to the rink and try to learn as much as you can. With guys like Robyn Regehr, Andrew Ference, just everybody who went to the Stanley Cup final two years ago, you can learn a lot and maybe take that next step."

RARE TOTAL PACKAGE

Phaneuf, who celebrated his 20th birthday April 10, is one of those rare total packages scouts and coaches dream about in a young prospect. He's tough. He's talented. He's dedicated. He loves to play.

Plucked ninth overall at the 2003 Entry Draft by Calgary after Oilers GM Kevin Lowe couldn't swing a trade to move up in selection order and get a crack at him, Phaneuf was wearing a jersey with a flaming C on the front and No. 3 on the back instead of copper and blue with family and friends looking on last night.

While Phaneuf faced the Oilers in the 2003-04 pre-season in Calgary, this was his debut as a Flame at home.

"It's exciting," said Phaneuf, part of a trifecta of top blueline prospects in 2003 that included Ryan Suter and Braydon Coburn. "Any time you get to play in your home city, it's an exciting time."

Geographically speaking, Phaneuf split the difference between the Oilers and Flames during his WHL career, playing smack in the middle between Edmonton and Calgary with the Red Deer Rebels.

EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES

Even though the Flames boast an embarrassment of riches on the back end, Phaneuf, awarded the Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy as top defenceman in the country last spring, looks ready to make the jump.

He's packed 10 pounds of muscle on his six-foot-two frame and bends the beams at 215 pounds. He didn't look out of place last night.

"He's had a good summer of training," coach and GM Darryl Sutter told the Calgary Sun."I've watched Dion Phaneuf play a lot of hockey, probably over 100 games in the last three years, so I know where he's going to take his game."

There's a chance Phaneuf could end up in the AHL with the Omaha Knights, but the big, blond banger will get every chance this pre-season to win a job in Cowtown. Last night was his first look. It won't be his last.

"All I can do is play my game and work my hardest on a daily basis," Phaneuf said. "If I throw everything I can out there, that's all I can do. I want to come to the rink every day and I want to get better."


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