Phaneuf's mean streak alive and well

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:53 PM ET

So much for it being just a meaningless pre-season game.

The first time Dion Phaneuf suited up in this year’s exhibition schedule, the Calgary Flames defenceman showed he wasn’t about to rest on his laurels.

In the first period, Phaneuf, a first-team all-star and runner-up for the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenceman last season, dropped a thundering hit when the opportunity presented itself.

Phaneuf smashed Phoenix Coyotes super-pest Daniel Carcillo with a patented open-ice shoulder check.

Seems the Flames rising star defenceman doesn’t plan to coast thanks to his new, sizeable contract.

“Slow down? I don’t think he ever will slow down,” Flames’ captain Jarome Iginla said. “He just goes. He doesn’t have an off (switch).

He puts the throttle on full and just goes, because he loves to play and compete as much as anybody I’ve ever played with. The only guy like that who comes to mind is Theo (Fleury). You get Dion on the ice, and there’s no in-between. You can be up 10 goals and he’ll be trying to run over guys, crush somebody or get a goal.

“That’s Dion and it’s infectious for the team.”

Iginla remains the face of the Flames — along with goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff — while other stars such as Robyn Regehr, Daymond Langkow, Mike Cammalleri and Todd Bertuzzi will have a big hand in the club’s fortunes.

But Phaneuf is the young phenom who’ll eventually inherit the team.

The 23-year-old is a fan favourite, as much for his smashing hits as he is for his offensive production — 54 goals and 105 assists through his first three NHL seasons.

He’s now mentioned among the league’s top defencemen and you know he’ll continue to push to see his name etched on the coveted Norris.

“He’d push regardless. He just pushes,” Iginla said. “He always wants to be his best, always wants to run over guys, score goals, have the puck. I don’t think a lot will change.

“He showed up this year a little older, but he’s the same, with the contract or whatever.”

That contract would be the six-year, $39-million pact that kicks in this season. Immediately after signing the new deal, the 6-foot-3, 241-pound first-round draft choice elevated his game.

Which is what he plans to continue doing this season.

“I’ve got to keep improving defensively,” he said of what specifics he needs to work on to make a Norris Trophy reality. “That’s a big part of taking my game to another level, being a better defender night in and night out.”

Phaneuf isn’t alone in that boat, but it appears this year’s squad has more players willing to stay on board and keep rowing.

The Flames have had a reputation for being a low-scoring team with Iginla the lone offensive standout, but that wasn’t the problem last year. It was goals against.

Offensively, the Flames were sixth in the Western Conference last season. Defensively, they were 11th.

Commitment to defence is a mantra you’ll hear often among the team.

“Kipper’s one of the best goalies in the league, we know that, but we have to help him out every way we can,” Phaneuf said. “That’s not only on the back end but up front, too. We have to work as five-man units to keep the puck out of the net. If we do that, we’re going to get our chances offensively because we have a lot more skill and speed.”

And by improving the team defence, the hope is Calgary will end its run of three straight first-round playoff exits, which has created a sense of unfinished business in the dressing room.

Although, Phaneuf said he and his teammates don’t want to think too much about those disappointments.

“We know as a group, even this early, we’re expected to do a lot better. That’s from ourselves. That’s big motivation,” he said. “No one is happy with how the last three years have gone. We know we have a group here that expects more out of each other.”

DION PHANEUF

Age: 23

Born: April 10, 1985, in Edmonton

Position: Defence

Shoots: left

Height: 6-foot-3

Weight: 215 pounds.

Experience: Fourth season in Calgary and NHL

Drafted: First round, ninth overall by Calgary in 2003

NHL numbers: 54 goals, 105 assists for 159 points in 243 regular-season games; five goals, four assists for nine points in 20 playoff contests

Awards: First-team NHL all-star (2008), NHL all-star game (2007, 2008), NHL all-rookie team (2006), Norris Trophy runner-up (2008), Calder Trophy finalist (2006).


Videos

Photos