Phaneuf brings energy to Leafs, fans

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:57 PM ET

From the coaches office, two rooms and three doorways away from the normally moribund Maple Leafs dressing room, coach Ron Wilson could hear Dion Phaneuf.

He could hear the noise between periods, the dressing room banter, that has been missing all season long.

“I don’t think anybody in the Leaf room has experienced that (before),” Wilson said. “It’s just exciting to be here.”

When asked what exactly Phaneuf was saying, Wilson answered: “I don’t care what he says. I’ll pay him by the word. Just to be full of energy.”

Seven minutes into Phaneuf’s new life as a Maple Leaf and already there was noise in the Air Canada Centre, already there was energy. He had already made a big hit, a bad pinch, been involved in a fight — the unofficial Chris Pronger hat trick — all in his first few shifts in blue and white.

It was a beginning to remember, maybe to rejoice. Noise on the ice. The normally dead week night crowd at the ACC seemingly alive. Noise in the normal silence of the dressing room. The right kind of blue and white noise that hasn’t been heard around here in any meaningful way in a very long time.

How does a team change its fortunes? Bill Polian, the Super Bowl general manager, told Brian Burke long ago that the most difficult thing to accomplish in sport is a culture change. And for a year and some, Burke has been stewing about altering the Leafs culture of entitlement.

The big move to begin the change, though, was the trade for Phaneuf. It was clear on just one night that almost everything he does is loud and impactful, at least for one night it was, for the defenceman who was brought to Toronto to make some kind of difference.

You study Phaneuf in his first appearance as a Leaf and in his 31 shifts you see almost the entire package, the good, the bad, the questionable, just more good last night than anything else.

You can see why he was a first team all-star not that long ago — something no Leafs defenceman has been since Borje Salming was voted in 33 years ago — and you see what he is capable of physically, and you understand why the Leafs targeted him and made so many attempts to acquire him this season.

You notice him, the New Jersey Devils certainly noticed him, and you know where he is on the ice — all the time. The Leafs will have to get used to him. A few times last night he snuck into the offence, was wide open for a pass, and no one recognized that.

Still, his four shots on goal were more than any other Leaf. His six hits tied for the club lead. He blocked more shots than any other Leaf beside J-S Giguere. More than anything, he had the kind of presence no Leafs defenceman has had in his own end since Tim Horton was selling something other than donuts.

“I felt the extra energy,” said Francois Beauchemin, Phaneuf’s partner on the Leafs defence and one used to playing with high-end defencemen. And there is no statistic to measure that. “There was a lot of life for us tonight.”

A lot of life for a team that has been written off for dead most of the season. A lot of life for a team so thin up front that six of the 12 forwards dressed last night had no more goals than defenceman Luke Schenn has managed in his sophomore season.

“It was a special game for me and my career,” Phaneuf said after being named the second star of the unlikely shutout of the New Jersey Devils. “It was a real exciting game to be a part of ... I want to be known as a guy who leads on the ice.”

Just so long as he keeps up the noise.


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