December 11, 2010
Phaneuf sets the record straight
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
On June 14, during one of the biggest moments of Dion Phaneuf’s National Hockey League career, he picked up the phone and was greeted by a familiar voice on the other end of the line.
It was Jarome Iginla.
“It was the day I was named captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs,” Phaneuf recounted. “And do you know who the first guy was to call and congratulate me? Jarome Iginla.”
How could that be?
According to some of the rumblings out west, there were insinuations that Phaneuf and Iginla had been feuding prior to the blockbuster trade that shipped the young defenceman to the Leafs last winter. There was even scuttlebutt that Phaneuf might have been involved in physical encounters with some of his Calgary Flames teammates.
Phaneuf heard all the talk. And he doesn’t agree with it.
Besides, if he and Iginla had been at loggerheads, why would the Flames captain have been so quick to give him a verbal pat on the back for being awarded the coveted “C?”
“(Jarome’s) a great guy,” Phaneuf said. “I’ve known him for what, how many years, going back to right when I was drafted when I was 18. We got along. We were very good friends.
“Like I said, he was the first call I got when I was named captain. He’s a class act. That’s the type of guy he is.”
With the clock ticking down on his highly anticipated return to the Saddledome on Thursday, Phaneuf wants to set the record straight on a number of fronts, whether it be about his relationship with Iginla, his other former teammates, the Calgary fans, the media, you name it. He can’t make people believe his words. But at least he wants to have the stage upon which to have his say about some of the things that have been uttered about him.
“To be completely honest with you, the stuff that came out, I saw no truth in it,” Phaneuf said. “There were a lot of rumours that went around. That always happens when there is a big trade.
“But, at the same time, I’ve still got a lot of friends out there. I respected the guys I played with out there and I’m sure they’ll give you the same answers if you ask them.”
For what it’s worth, you can count Olli Jokinen among the Flames who had nothing but good things to say about having Phaneuf as a teammate.
“I would go to war with that guy any time,” Jokinen said, just days after the mammoth seven-player deal on Jan. 31 that sent Phaneuf, forward Fredrik Sjostrom, and prospect defenceman Keith Aulie to Toronto for forwards Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers and defenceman Ian White. “I would go to dinner with that guy any time.
“Yes, he’s very intense. He gets that angry, mean look on his face that people take the wrong way. But what’s wrong with wanting to win?”
Jokinen added that Phaneuf was railroaded out of Calgary by the fans, claiming they made the young defenceman a scapegoat.
Phaneuf refuses to blame the Flames supporters, insisting “the fans were always great to me.” What he does have a problem with, however, was the insinuation by Flames general manager Darryl Sutter at the conclusion of the 2009-10 season that there had been “issues” inside the Calgary dressing room.
“When you hear some of those rumours, well, they are not great to hear,” he said. “Darryl came out at the end of the year and said that there were some issues or whatnot ... Well, I’m here to tell you right now I had never had an issue in that room and I’m sure the guys there will say the same thing.”
Another stereotype Phaneuf wants to clear up: That he could be a miserable %$#@+# to deal with. While Phaneuf has gone out of his way to be accommodating to the Toronto media during his 10-plus months as a Leaf, some of our esteemed Calgary colleagues report that he could be difficult during his time with the Flames.
“When you come off the ice and your adrenalin is rushing if you’ve won or lost the game, there’s a lot of emotion,” he said. “It’s a business. Sometimes if you don’t smile during a post-game interview, there is a perception that you never smile. There was a perception among some members of the media out there that I didn’t like to talk either. That’s wrong. It wasn’t always like that. If you saw me away from the rink or ask the guys, I’m sure they’d say the same thing. But it’s a job and I take it seriously every time I’m on the ice, whether it’s a game or a practice.
“I don’t think it was the fans as much as the media really came down on a lot of us (last year). Hey, let’s face it, when things aren’t going well, your top guys have to be accountable. Like I said, I can’t say enough good things about the city out there. I had a lot of good years there. It’s part of the business. I have no hard feelings.”
Phaneuf admits he is looking forward to being back in Calgary on Thursday. He hopes the Flames fans do not jeer him. Of course, that might be asking too much.
“I’m wearing a different jersey now, so if it’s boos, well, I’ve been booed in different buildings,” he said. “I won’t take it personally. I don’t think they’ll boo me because it’s part of the business. I did not ask to be moved.
“It will be a special night. I played a lot of games in that building. I played a lot of games for that organization. I’ll have lots of people to say hi to. But once the puck drops, I’m on a different team. I’m sure the guys over there would say the same thing.
“I had a lot of real good times there. There were a good years that went well. Being up for the Calder was very special. So was being up for the Norris. There were good times.”
Of course, if he does get razzed by the Flames fans, he knows there will be plenty of blue-and-white clad Leafs supporters in the stands to back him.
“That is the one thing that is amazing,” he said. “Everywhere you go, we’ve got an unbelievable following. I remember when Toronto would come into our building when I was in Calgary, the whole half of the building was full during warmup with Leaf fans.”
Whatever happens on Thursday, the atmosphere inside the Saddledome should be electric. After all, Dion Phaneuf, the polarizing defenceman Calgary hockey fans both loved and loathed, is coming back.
Quinn made great trade
Pat Quinn doesn’t get enough credit for his tenure at the helm of the Maple Leafs, with critics pointing to the fact that he didn’t bring a Stanley Cup to Toronto.
In reality, he’s not alone in that failure, considering the Leafs have not hoisted hockey’s coveted bauble in 43-plus years.
At the same time, give the ornery Irishman kudos for pulling off one of the most one-sided deals in hockey history.
On March 20, 1996, Quinn, running the Vancouver Canucks at the time, acquired forward Markus Naslund from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Alek Stojanov.
Naslund would finish his career with 869 career points and ended up as the Canucks leading scorer. Stojanov would finish his career with seven career points and ended up retiring a year after the deal.
Can you say “one-sided?”
On Saturday night in Vancouver, the Canucks appropriately were scheduled to retire Naslund’s No. 19. While many fans here in the east likely never fully appreciated Naslund’s talents, he was one of the most dynamic players in the sport during his 12 year run out on the left coast.
And for that, Canuck fans can thank Pat Quinn.
Who says the concept of outdoor games is getting old?
Certainly not the world-record throng of 113,411 that shoehorned into Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor Saturday to see Michigan defeat hated rivals Michigan State 5-0.
It was billed as “The Big Chill,” a fitting slogan considering those lucky enough to attend the spectacle were left with chills of amazement running up and down their spines.
“Any time you looked away from the game and look at the environment and the surroundings, it was definitely surreal,” Michigan coach Red Berenson told reporters.
The crowd smashed the previous hockey mark of 77,803 set at the World Championships in Germany last spring. It was also the largest gathering for an event in the illustrious history of the stadium known as The Big House.