May 8, 2012
Out of T.O. spotlight, Phaneuf cracks a smile
By TERRY JONES, QMI Agency
HELSINKI - Every day, everytime you see him, everywhere you see him here, other than on the ice, Dion Phaneuf seems to be smiling.
Back at home, the Toronto Maple Leafs captain and former Calgary Flame is viewed as mostly a miserable cuss and not a particularly friendly fellow.
Is there something about wearing the Team Canada uniform? Is it Scandinavia? Why is this man suddenly smiling?
Having no Canadian players in a bar at 3 a.m. in the company of the Miss Finland incident to chase down this day, your correspondent decided inquiring minds needed to know.
Phaneuf had just come off the ice at the practice cave directly under the main game ice surface at the Hartwall Arena with that 10-years-older-than-his-age ultra serious expression on his face.
He kept it there for a few seconds and then he ...
"That's one thing a lot of people don't see. I do smile a lot," he said.
"What people perceive Dion to be and the kind of guy Dion really is are not the same," said Team Canada coach Brent Sutter, who knows the 29-year-old defenceman better than anybody in hockey and knows a little bit about miserable-cuss/not-particularly-friendly-fellow perceptions himself, being a, you know, Sutter and all.
"Unless you know him and have been around him ... Dion is a great guy. He comes to the rink and wants to have success and win. He's a guy who gets along with everybody."
Sutter coached Phaneuf for four years as a junior with the Red Deer Rebels, coached him at a world junior, coached him as a Calgary Flame and is now coaching him at the world hockey championship.
"Dion played his first year for me when he was 16. It was a big learning step coming out of minor hockey to major junior. But I knew he was going to be a very good player. All he needed was time to grow," said Sutter of the Edmonton product who had played pee wee with Canada's national netminder and Olympic gold medal winner Shannon Szabados the year they went to the Quebec City tournament together.
"When he was 19, there was Dion and Shea Weber in the Western Hockey League," said Sutter. "Dion was the star defenceman of the Eastern Conference and Weber of the Western Conference. They both played like men that year. If there was an NHL they wouldn't have been playing junior. They both would have been up there then if there hadn't been a lockout.
Phaneuf is an expert on Sutters as the possibility begins to occur to hockey fans that the fired Calgary Flames GM Darryl could win the Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings and brother Brent, departed from the Flames by mutual agreement, could win the world hockey championship gold the same year.
Brent was coaching the Flames and had nothing to do with Darryl trading him to Toronto.
"Brent helped me a lot in junior. He really helped me understand what it took to become a pro. He ran the Rebels as close to a pro operation as possible. He taught me a lot of things about becoming a good pro.
"I played for Darryl for one year as a coach and under him as GM the rest of the time. He's a real good coach and you can see that right now with LA. I'm happy for him. I have no hard feelings at all. That's the business side of it," he said.
"Going to Toronto has been nothing but a positive for me. Toronto is an unbelievable place to play. Calgary will always be a special place, too, but I've moved on," said the son of Amber and Paul Phaneuf.
Dion also has a house in Edmonton. He splits his summers between there and Prince Edward Island where the family is originally from and where his 17-year-old brother Dane is now playing junior hockey in the QMJHL.
Phaneuf may be wearing the blue maple leaf now, but he wore the red maple leaf to win gold at the world juiors in Grand Forks, N.D., in 2005 and the world championships in 2007 in Moscow, the last time Canada won the tournament.
"It was a pretty easy decision. I had to turn it down a few times because I was banged up, but last year and this year I was healthy. People don't understand what a tough tournament this is, what a tough tournament it is to win. And this is such a great experience. You get to play with a lot of talented players and you build a lot of friendships. My theory is that anytime you have a chance to win a championship, you should want to be part of it."