Wilson welcomes Phaneuf 'swagger'

MIKE ZEISBERGER,, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:40 AM ET

It is Dion Phaneuf's first practice as a Maple Leaf and man, is he "excited."

In fact, as the day progresses, you come to the conclusion that the word "excited" might be the favourite in his entire vocabulary.

On this memorable Monday afternoon in Leafs history, Phaneuf uses it 13 times during his post-workout scrum with the Toronto media at the MasterCard Centre.

Then it's off to a private room to tape an interview with Michael Landsberg for the Up Front segment of TSN's popular Off The Record program, on which he claims he is “excited” 13 more times.

We get the picture.

Dion Phaneuf is “excited” to be a Maple Leaf.

Let’s see how long that lasts after a few losses and a few boos.

On this day, however, he has reason to be pumped.

While sporting goods stores around the city already are stitching the name “PHANEUF” and his familiar No. 3 on blue-and-white jerseys, Phaneuf already has arrived at the MasterCard Centre where he quickly passes his morning physical.

Having received a clean bill of health, he enters the Maple Leafs dressing room. A quiet Maple Leafs dressing room. Far too quiet.

Cue the tunes.

“He already walked into the (room), said: ‘Where’s the music?’ and fired it right up without worrying what anybody else said,” coach Ron Wilson reveals. “He is an assertive personality and that is something that has been lacking here.

“He has a swagger that we will encourage and it will rub off on the other guys.”

Question is, as “excited” as Phaneuf might be, will it rub the others guys the wrong way?

There were plenty of those allegations out in Calgary, where some accused him of being less than the ideal teammate. Those suggestions, Fredrik Sjostrom said, simply aren’t true.

“All I can say is he’s a great guy and I like being around him. He brings a lot of energy every day,” said the personable Swede, who came to Toronto with Phaneuf on Sunday as part of the seven-player blockbuster with the Flames.

He also is an intense guy. Some would say too intense.

According to Mike Keenan, his former coach in Calgary, that’s not a bad thing.

“I would rather have a bunch of guys you have to tone down rather than a bunch of guys you have to pump up,” Keenan says from his Georgian Bay residence.

“I’ve been around a lot of guys like that. Chris Chelios. Mark Messier. Chris Pronger.”

Impressive group. Does Phaneuf fit in there too?

“Absolutely,” Keenan says. “He shares that trait with all those guys. He is a fierce competitor. Why wouldn’t you want that?

“Dion has some flaws in his game like everyone else. But he also has traits and skills few others do. In that regard, he is among a select few.”

One of those unique “skills” is his ability to rip a puck with the velocity rarely seen in the sport.

Jonas Gustavsson finds that out quickly. The Swedish rookie has the unenviable task of being the first Leafs goalie to face Phaneuf in practice.

The Leafs are working on the power play. Tomas Kaberle is feeding cross-ice passes to Phaneuf, who is playing the right point. Pucks are whizzing past Gustavsson’s head as Phaneuf rips one-timers. If this keeps up, The Monster will be begging to go back to Stockholm.

“It’s not just how hard he shoots, he how quickly he gets it away,” Gustavsson says.

Kaberle used to set up Bryan McCabe for these patented blasts on the power play. Now he’s teeing up pucks for Phaneuf.

“I have to admit, when I heard (Dion) was coming, I thought about how Brian and I used to work together on the power play,” Kaberle said. “Hopefully (Phaneuf) and I can do the same.”

Practice finally ends. Phaneuf is brought to a riser outside the dressing room. About 40 reporters and cameramen are waiting for him. The moment oozes with “excitement.”

“Some people say I don’t like to talk to the media,” Phaneuf said.

“That’s what they said (in Calgary). But I enjoy this. This is great support. A real hockey city that loves their team. I’m proud to be part of it and excited to get going here.

“It’s been an exciting 24 hours. It was a pretty good practice. I’m really excited. It was fun. This is a good group to come into. They’ve been real nice to me and I can’t wait to get started Tuesday against New Jersey.”

Phaneuf is asked about his subpar stats — 10 goals and 12 assists.

“My numbers might not be where I want them to be personally,” he says. “But I’m excited for a fresh start. It’s a great organization here. It’s got a lot of history. Just driving into downtown last night, I was very excited.”

Imagine that. Dion Phaneuf is excited.

Who would have guessed?

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca


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