|Toronto Maple Leafs' Dion Phaneuf (C) is helped off the ice by teammate Carl Gunnarsson and a trainer during a break in play, after he was injured during the second period of their NHL hockey game against the Ottawa Senators in Toronto November 2, 2010. (REUTERS/Mark Blinch)
TORONTO - For the past five weeks, the only sightings of a uniformed Dion Phaneuf around town were those energy drink posters in the TTC stations.
But heíll be back in mind and body on Thursday night at home against the Philadelphia Flyers, the troublesome gash on his left leg healed at last. Phaneuf tore up the Air Canada Centre with a couple of black aces at an optional morning skate.
ďItís been long enough,Ē the team captain said. ďItís not easy being hurt and watching.Ē
He was probably ready to go Wednesday in Pittsburgh, a game his team fell behind 4-0 and then lost 5-2.
ďI didnít come back because between me, the doctors and the training staff, it wasnít a great time to start back-to-back games. Iíve been out five weeks and it wasnít the easiest schedule to come back to, but Iím ready to go and Iím excited.Ē
After Phaneuf suffered a cut in a freak accident with the skate blade of Ottawa Senatorsí Peter Regin on Nov. 2, he was laid up in Mt. Sinai Hospital, then developed an infection that required a visit to a disease specialist.
ďThe reaction set me back, thatís for sure,Ē Phaneuf said. ďBut my focus is not about the past and what I went through, itís about being ready to play tonight and a big game for our team. We have to get points and itís a critical part of the year.Ē
The question is which Leaf defenceman will come out of the lineup? Coach Ron Wilson didnít speak to the media on Thursday and though seniority would dictate that Carl Gunnarsson or Keith Aulie step aside, both have played well. Mike Komisarek has not had a great year thus far and Aulie has taken some of his ice time, but that would be a lot of money sitting in the pressbox with Jeff Finger already exiled to the Marlies.
The Leafs were 5-4-1 before Phaneuf was hurt and were 5-9-3 afterwards, counting the Ottawa game. Known as a vocal presence, Phaneuf was loud cheerleader in on game nights, but wasnít going to get into specifics about what he liked and didnít like from his perch.
ďEveryone always says itís very easy to be critical from up there,Ē he said. ďIt isnít as quick when youíre out there. You see a lot of things, but itís pretty hard to be critical up there when theyíre on the ice battling.
ďYou come back and try to keep it as simple as possible. Iím not going to be running around trying to do stuff that I donít usually do. Iím sure I will be taking shorter shifts after being off five weeks. Iím coming back to play the way I do, bring what I bring and I canít do anything more than that.Ē
Phaneuf wanted to be back in time to play against his old Calgary Flames team on Wednesday, almost a year ater the multi-player trade, but says that was not his prime motivation to appear about a week earlier than projected.
ďI wanted to come back as quickly as possible,Ē he said.