Spotlight on defence

Toronto Maple Leafs' Bryan McCabe comes home to Alberta leading all league defencemen with 47...

Toronto Maple Leafs' Bryan McCabe comes home to Alberta leading all league defencemen with 47 points, more than halfway to Ian Turnbull's club record for most by a defenceman. (Michael Peake/Toronto Sun)

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:46 AM ET

CALGARY -- Bryan McCabe has never met Dion Phaneuf, but it's going to be like looking in a mirror across the blueline tomorrow night.

The two Alberta-raised defencemen have been the talk of their National Hockey League teams this season.

They are both due consideration for major awards in the second half, although McCabe likely will be eclipsed for the Norris Trophy by better 5-on-5 defencemen, while Phaneuf is in the shadow of Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin for the Calder Trophy for top rookie.

Phaneuf was supposed to be integrated slowly into the defending Western Conference champion's defence, but he soared when Robyn Regehr and Roman Hamrlik were hurt. Despite being 10 years McCabe's junior, the 20-year-old has played all 40 games with the same electric jolt Wendel Clark gave the Leafs in the mid-1980s.

"I hear he's a big tough defenceman, a tough Western boy and is having a great season," McCabe said yesterday.

"He has a cannon, I've seen that. He'll be a presence to be dealt with in the game."

McCabe comes home leading all league defencemen with 47 points, more than halfway to Ian Turnbull's club record for most by a defenceman and 30 power-play points.

"Any time you look at the stats, he's having a great year and when you watch the highlights, he has scored some really nice goals," Phaneuf said.

Flames captain Jarome Iginla and his mates had been keeping a close eye on Phaneuf since he nearly made the team as an 18-year-old in 2003.

"The guys knew then he was going to be good," Iginla said.

"But to have him step in and be as good as he has, to be that confident, has been a surprise."

McCabe also had a meteoric rise in the NHL, captain of the New York Islanders after just two years in the league. But it wasn't until he came to Toronto in 2000 that he began to refine the rough edges of his game.

McCabe is still the only defenceman leading his team in scoring, though Calgary general manager/coach Darryl Sutter has no containment plan outside of nixing the penalties that nourish McCabe's numbers.

"I think Bryan and Dion are different types of players. I think until Dion has played the years Bryan has (you can't compare them)."

Sutter prefers not to argue the Calder merits of his player over the publicity of Crosby and Ovechkin.

"Sid and Ovechkin get a lot of attention because they are offensive, flashy guys," he said.

"Dion doesn't get lost in the shuffle here, because everyone in the West knows him."


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