Dion's big return a big bust

Flames forward Jarome Iginla decks Maple Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf at the Scotiabank Saddledome...

Flames forward Jarome Iginla decks Maple Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on December 16, 2010. (DARREN MAKOWICHUK/QMI Agency)

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:05 AM ET

After all that hype, ol’ Dion got upStajaned.

Overshadowed all night long by both Calgary players remaining from the seven-player deal that sent him to Toronto last January, Dion Phaneuf’s only homecoming contribution came in the form of increased noise.

They booed him early.

They booed him often.

They booed him loudly.

And by the tail end of a 5-2 Leafs loss, it was hard to tell which fans were on him more — those wearing blue or red.

“They have all the right in the world to boo,” Phaneuf said when asked about being razzed every single time he touched the puck.

“They are passionate fans here. It was a lively building. I feel when I was here I played hard night in and night out. There were a lot of nights, if not all of them, they were cheering for me. I have no hard feelings at all. It’s nothing personal.”

With three shots on goal, two hits and no points, Phaneuf’s return to the city in which he played four and-a-half-years was as big a disappointment as the two teams on the ice.

Granted, while the expectations on the $6.5-million former Norris finalist are impossibly high, fans saw none of the fire or offence that made him so popular here his first three years.

Then again, it’s been awhile since anyone has seen it, which is why the polarizing blueliner has the distinction of being booed by hometown fans in both Toronto and Calgary over the last year.

Capping off a 48-hour span in which he’d scored his first goal of the season, flew to P.E.I. for his grandmother’s funeral and returned in time for an upbeat morning skate and greet at the Dome, Phaneuf could be forgiven for being overwhelmed by it all.

Acquitting himself well in the pregame warmup by staying late to sign autographs, Phaneuf suffered the ultimate indignity late in the evening when he was laughed at by the crowd after tripping Jarome Iginla, who had beaten him with his speed and was in all alone.

The referees called a penalty shot, which Iginla missed.

“Bottom line, they beat us in every area of the rink and they kept coming,” said the anchor in last year’s surprising seven-player trade between Calgary and Toronto.

“We looked a little tentative. Give them credit, they played a full 60 minutes.”

Well, it was actually a 57-second span that broke the game wide open in the second, when the Flames scored three goals, including an Alex Tanguay goal that featured a pretty setup from Stajan.

The crowd’s reaction when he was the last Leaf to step on the ice in the pre-game was drowned by the announcer’s voice.

However, 10 seconds in he touched the puck for the first time and received a hearty boo that featured a few cheers mixed in. It went on like that all night.

“That was nice,” said Phaneuf of the supporters.

“There were cheers and boos. It was mixed emotions from the fans. It was an emotional loss for our team, not just me.”

While it’s generally agreed the Leafs got the better end of the trade due to Phaneuf’s profile and instant captaincy, Hagman scored once and Stajan added the assist while playing well on the top line following two games in the press box.

Adding to the irony is the fact Olli Jokinen — who has replaced Phaneuf as the most unpopular Flame — was the game’s first star with a goal and two assists.

There were none of Phaneuf’s trademark hits and no aggression shown during play or after a whistle.

Suffice it to say, his return wasn’t what he envisioned.

“Well, no,” said Phaneuf during a typically frosty exchange when that was pointed out.

“We got beat 5-2, so no it wasn’t.”

Just like old times.


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