December 16, 2010
Dion Phaneuf's day in Calgary
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
CALGARY — While the coffee shop at the downtown Marriott always is a bustling place at 7 a.m., the java isn’t the only thing that has a bit of extra zest on this snowy Thursday morning.
This is, after all, the day that the polarizing Dion Phaneuf is returning to the Saddledome. And all it takes is one look at the lineup waiting for a cup o’ joe to understand that Dionpalooza already is in full force, even at this early hour.
There, standing patiently waiting to place his order, is a middle-aged man waiting to have his order taken. He is wearing a red Flames jersey, which is a common sight in these parts.
Only this is no ordinary Calgary sweater.
While the No. 3 is evident on the back, wads of black tape have been splattered over the name “Phaneuf.” Obviously not a fan. Not anymore anyway.
Welcome to Dionpalooza.
9:23 a.m. As he drives a Toronto hockey columnist to the Saddledome, a local cabbie decides to get a quick rant in concerning the Phaneuf deal. “What the %$^&** was Darryl Sutter thinking?” he asks. “Matt (#@&^%) Stajan can’t even get his (bleep) out of the press box!” OK, we get the point.
9:42 am Having arrived at the rink for the morning skate, Phaneuf and Flames captain Jarome Iginla have a brief moment to chat, far away from the glaring spotlight of the cameras, microphones and notepads. Much to the chagrin of the rumour mongers, no punches are thrown. “It was great to catch up to Iggy,” Phaneuf says later.
10:59 a.m. One of the most accommodating players in the league, Iginla is asked for the umpteenth time about the return about Phaneuf, about the scuttlebutt that they might have exchanged punches during their time in Calgary ... blah blah blah. “I’ll be glad when I don’t have to answer these questions any more,” he laughs. Iginla does mention that his teammates will have to be aware when Phaneuf is on the ice. “There are five or six guys in the league that you have to know when they are at all times because they will deliver a hit at any time if your head is down,” Iginla says. “And he’s one of them.”
11:23 a.m. Normally understated at the best of times, Flames coach Brent Sutter acknowledges that there is an extra buzz around town, partially due to Phaneuf being back. “Whenever Montreal or Toronto are here or playing other Canadian teams, there is more (electricity circulating),” Sutter said. Well said. And with Phaneuf in town, there is even more spice to the day.
11:47 a.m. As he steps off the ice after the Leafs morning skate, Phaneuf stops to sign about 10 autographs. One Calgary-based ink-stained wretch is astonished. “I don’t think I saw him sign that many in his entire final season here,” he says. “Maybe he has changed.”
11:52 a.m. Having completed his P.R. duties, Phaneuf addresses the media throng, which includes 23 reporters and six cameras. It was the same schtick we’ve heard for the past week. Glad to be back. Had a great time here. Once the session is over, he begins schmoozing with some familiar faces.
11:59 a.m. Kris Versteeg is surrounded by reporters wanting to know why he didn’t wear his Phaneuf mask to the morning skate like he did during Wednesday’s practice. “Why do that when the real McCoy is here?” he jokes. Apparently Phaneuf was aware of Versteeg’s antics Wednesday, even though he was attending his grandmother’s funeral in PEI. “Guys texted him about it,” Versteeg said.
6:25 p.m.: A fan standing at the Saddledome ticket window is wearing a Flames Keith Aulie jersey. Interesting. Yes, Aulie came to Toronto as part of the Phaneuf deal, but, in actuality, he never played a single game for the parent Flames, spending his days in junior and the AHL. Must be a relative.
7:00 p.m.: Phaneuf is greeted by a mixture of cheers and boos as he takes to the ice for the warmup. Of note: Two fans wearing Leafs Phaneuf jerseys give him a high five as he steps onto the ice.
7:39 p.m.: Phaneuf is greeted by a chorus of boos as he touches the puck for the first time in the game. It will go on for much of the first period.
That’s more like it.
Welcome back Dion.