|Maple Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf puts his game face on prior to a preseason game at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario on September 27, 2010. (Abelimages/Getty Images)
The change of address and added responsibility has seemingly softened Dion Phaneuf.
On Tuesday the Toronto Maple Leafs captain addressed the media about returning to Western Canada for the first time since being traded away from Calgary.
Phaneuf was charming, engaging, funny and well spoken.
It was seemingly a far cry from the brooding, intense, short-answered act he would put on as a member of the Calgary Flames.
“To be completely honest, I think that was a bad stereotype out here with you guys,” smiled Phaneuf. “I’ve never had a problem talking with the media, I’ve always done every interview that’s been asked. But for some reason they didn’t think I smiled and they didn’t think I enjoyed this, but I have no issue with it at all.”
Phaneuf started his western swing in Edmonton before heading off to visit the Calgary Flames Thursday and Vancouver Canucks Saturday.
The former Flames defenceman said he hasn’t given any thought to returning to Calgary yet, instead focusing all of his attention on the game against the Edmonton Oilers.
The teams were meeting for the second time in under two weeks, with the Oilers skating to a 5-0 victory in the last encounter.
“It’s always special to play here in front of family and friends,” said the Edmonton native. “Even with Calgary, coming here was always special, to play in the city where you grew up is always fun.
“I don’t think it gets much better than that, getting to come home. I grew up watching games here, watching the Oilers play and playing on this ice, it’s definitely special every time I play here.”
Heading into the contest, Phaneuf had five assists in 13 games with the Leafs this season. He’s recently returned to the lineup after being cut behind his knee by the skate of Ottawa Senators forward Peter Regin in November.
“I feel really good for having to take as much time as I did off,” Phaneuf said. “I came back and I felt better than expected. It’s been good and every day it’s going to get stronger.”
Apart from his injury, there have been few negatives about his taking over the leadership role of one of the most storied franchises in hockey.
Phaneuf made an immediate impression in Toronto after being surprisingly traded away from Calgary midway though last season.
“He’s been great as a captain and he’s been great as a player as well,” said Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson, who could stand to take a page out of Phaneuf’s playbook and soften his stand with the media a bit.
Regardless, since being made the Maple Leafs captain this off-season, Phaneuf has stood up well to the pressures associated with the role.
“I don’t think the pressures are greater, I think the biggest thing is that there are more people, it’s a bigger market,” Phaneuf said. “There is a lot of media, regardless of what Canadian city you play in, but there with the higher population, there are more cameras.
“We have unbelievable support all across the country and it’s been nothing but positive since becoming a Maple Leaf.”
At 25, and already approaching 500 games in the league, Phaneuf seems a more mature version of the player who broke into the league in Calgary.
“I haven’t changed the way I play,” he said. “I’m in a different role here. It’s definitely an honour to be captain of this team, a team that has as much history as the Maple Leafs. It’s been all positive so far.”